I remember watching Sachin Tendulkar bat when the Indians toured England way back in 1996. The first test match at Edgbaston saw the Indian batters running for cover against a potent English pace attack led by a man who belonged to the historic county of Lancashire. Dominic Cork, his name was. He charged in at speeds exceeding 90 mph and made the Indian batsmen hop and jump on a typical English batting strip.
The batting strip was damp and murky; the skies were covered with thick, grey blankets. It was not an ideal day for batting, and the Indians, under Mohammad Azharuddin, succumbed against the swinging ‘red cherry’ to be bundled-out for 214 in the first innings after opting to bat first. The second innings didn’t bring much respite either and the Men in Blue were bundled out for a paltry 219 with Tendulkar’s 122 being the only saving grace.
The Indians suffered a heavy defeat at Edgbaston. The defeat also ensured that the Indians would go on to lose the series, with the next two matches ending in a draw. Sachin Tendulkar kept piling-on the runs, but the others kept falling like nine pins. It was a one-man show with Tendulkar contributing more than 50% to the overall total (122 out of 219 in the second innings). With Tendulkar fighting a lone battle, the other batters in the line-up looked oblivious and couldn’t come to terms with the swinging ‘red cherry’ on a wicket that had a tinge of green.
India’s over-dependence on Tendulkar kept intensifying with the passage of time. Tendulkar used to walk out with fans shouting their hearts out in jubilation. When dismissed, a stunned silence would engulf the entire stadium.
20 years down the line, the Indians are facing the same demons all over again. Earlier, when Tendulkar got out on the cheap, the Indians still had the likes of Ganguly, Dravid, and Sehwag in their ranks. But today, if Kohli gets out on the cheap, the team isn’t left with much firepower. Kohli’s dismissal has a deflating effect. We saw that in the semi-final clash against the Aussies in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, where Virat’s dismissal triggered a collapse, and the entire team melted away like a lump of sugar in a child’s mouth.
Kohli might not have scaled the same heights as Tendulkar, but the similarities are there, both in their impact on the crowd and their team and in the perceived over-reliance on them to score runs for the team to win matches.
It isn’t a coincidence that the team’s strong form in the recently concluded home season coincided with Kohli’s dream-run with the willow in hand. The 28-year-old notched-up as many as four double centuries in a year.
Batting firepower is India’s strength, but over-dependence on Kohli is a worrying sign. In Kohli’s debut as captain, India tried to chase an imposing fourth innings target of 364 at the Adelaide Oval in 2014. Kohli notched-up an imperious century (141) to take India to the threshold of victory. However, the knock was in vain as Kohli’s dismissal proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Men in Blue. Kohli was the seventh wicket to fall with the scorecard reading 304/7. The Indians collapsed at 315.
Kohli’s herculean effort at Adelaide reminded many of an equally brilliant hundred which had ultimately gone in vain. When Tendulkar scored a majestic 136 at the Chepauk against Pakistan in 1999. Chasing 271 for victory, the Indians were well placed at 254/6 when Tendulkar got out. The team ultimately fell short by 12 runs and were bowled-out for 258.
In One Day International Cricket, Kohli has become the undisputed master of run chases. No less than 18 of his 28 centuries in One Day International matches have come while chasing, 16 of them coming in successful chases. Tendulkar had scored 14 centuries in successful run-chases.
Kohli failed in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy. The Indians couldn’t chase down 339 and were bundled-out for a paltry total of 158. Nobody was able to step into Kohli’s shoes as the sheet anchor. As the national side’s captain, Kohli is undoubtedly the fulcrum around which the innings revolves. However, the likes of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Lokesh Rahul, and Hardik Pandya, all talented and capable, need to find a way to step and lead the way when their skipper cannot. The nation is indeed blessed to have a cricketer as good as Kohli, but over-reliance on one man runs the risk of becoming a burden for the Indian batting sensation.
A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.