Virat Kohli’s shoulder has assumed similar proportions as Sachin Tendulkar’s elbow did in 2004-05. Injuries to both dealt a big blow to Indian cricket and the fans’ psyche at their respective times, with the team struggling to come to terms with it. While Tendulkar had various injuries throughout his career, Kohli has largely been available for selection since his Test debut in 2011. After he took over captaincy, Kohli has become the undisputed leader of the team and the batting department, bailing the team out and setting up matches on his own series after series.
But the Australia series, which came at the end of a long home season for India, hasn’t turned out the way Kohli wanted. He scored just 46 runs from three Tests, a far cry from his run of four double centuries in an many series. And then, in the third Test in Ranchi he injured his shoulder.
He managed to bat in that match but there was always a high probability of him being out for some time as the original assessment, provided by a ‘lab technician’, in Ranchi was ligament tear. While that diagnosis was brushed aside as it wasn’t made by a qualified doctor, it became clear that the injury was indeed serious when Kohli was ruled out of the Dharamsala Test.
While the skipper said he would play only if 100 per cent fit, chances are he would have played if 80 per cent. But it looks like he was a long way away from being ready and hence had to opt out of arguably the most important match of his Test career with the series locked at 1-1 and the bad blood between the two sides reaching unprecedented levels.
The focus, as far as his injury is concerned, now moves to the Indian Premier League which starts next week. While Kohli is the leader of the pack of the national team, he is the beating heart of the T20 league. He is paid more than $2 million by the Royal Challengers Bangalore and he has consistently been one of the highest earning cricketers in the league. With so much money involved in the IPL, it is obvious the pressure to play will be higher.
The reality is that franchises exert a lot more pressure on top Indian players than the BCCI. Sourav Ganguly once stated he had less trouble as India captain as he didn’t have to deal with franchise owners and explain every cricketing decision.
We have been in this situation before. Just a week after India won the 2011 World Cup at home in April following an emotionally draining campaign, all star players jumped right into the IPL, pushing themselves on the field for another month and a half. Once the England tour started in June that year, players began to break down and India were thrashed 4-0.
On Sunday, former Australia batsman and Gujarat Lions coach Brad Hodge said he hoped Kohli didn’t start the IPL because it would bring up the club v country debate and sully the skipper’s image. Kohli might well take a couple of weeks off and return to IPL thereafter. But if the injury isn’t critical and Kohli misses the first game of the IPL – against Sunrisers Hyderabad next Wednesday – the pressure on him will be immense to take the field ASAP.
There are many who believe Kohli should have risked injury, played the fourth Test and taken a call on IPL after that. But IPL and its fat contracts operate at a different level. A window is provided in the international calendar for the IPL, international tours are amended for it and all cricket boards come together for it (apart from Pakistan, unfortunately). There is so much riding on it, issues which otherwise would have taken precedence suddenly don’t.
Which is why when the Indian government refused to provide security during the 2009 edition due to elections, the league simply packed its bags and moved to South Africa within two weeks.
Kohli should feature in the IPL at some point or the other. But if he turns up for the first match itself, questions will be raised whether he should have played the fourth Test. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise because franchises have immense clout.
When a decorated captain like MS Dhoni can be kicked out as captain by Rising Pune Supergiants after one bad season, Kohli can definitely be asked to ‘hurry up’.
The IPL will be without some big names this time. While suspense remains about the availability of Kohli, there are a few names who won’t feature in the tournament, either completely or partially.
Kevin Pietersen pulled out of the IPL auction, seeking time off. Protea JP Duminy too opted out citing personal reasons. His compatriot Quinton de Kock has sustained a finger injury and will thus miss the tournament while West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo will be unavailable for the first few matches due to a hamstring injury. Organisers will be hoping that star-studded list of absentees doesn’t grow.