The Kinrara Academy Oval in Kuala Lumpur hasn't seen much top-level cricket over the years, and with a capacity of around 4,000, it isn't hard to understand why. The significance of the picturesque ground in cricketing folklore, however, must not be lost in the apparent lack of memories that spring to the mind of the casual fan.
In 2006, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 40th ODI hundred against Brian Lara's West Indies, albeit in a losing cause. Less than two years later, with only a few hundred people in attendance, the man who has gone on to break multiple Tendulkar records and will undoubtedly shatter more, Indian skipper Virat Kohli, would dismiss his New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson - stumped down the leg-side - for 37 runs in the semi-final of the 2008 U-19 World Cup.
Those in attendance and those watching across the world might not have grasped the gravity of the wicket then. But 12 years and innumerable international matches down the line, it's safe to say that the Kinrara Academy Oval witnessed one of the most treasured cricketing moments of all time.
Kohli may have won his first recognised battle with Williamson - India would chase down a rain-affected target and their skipper would be adjudged Man of the Match for his 43 and 2 wickets. The Boys in Blue would even go on to win the tournament, and Kohli would be thrust into the international spotlight at the tender age of 19.
But much has changed since that rainy day in Malaysia. The beards have grown longer, sleeves and boundaries have grown shorter, and money has grabbed cricket by the scruff of its neck to transfigure it into a far more high-stakes sport. However, the rivalry between Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson lives on.
Kohli and Williamson are battle-hardened captains of their countries - in fact, they are the only two skippers among the top teams to be at the helm in all three formats. And not without reason, since the duo are widely regarded as the two greatest all-format batsmen in the world.
Both players have also experienced the cruel, unforgiving side of cricket. Williamson has ended up on the wrong end of not one but two gut-wrenching World Cup finals, while Kohli's tenure as captain in ICC tournaments has almost completely overshadowed the glory of his triumphs under predecessor MS Dhoni.
In what has been a tale of soaring peaks and plunging valleys for both players on the collective front, a couple of standout individual performances from Williamson while playing against Kohli have catapulted him into the driver's seat as far as their rivalry is concerned.
The 2019 World Cup and Kane Williamson's virtue
Forgive me, Indian fans, for bringing up the fateful day (or days) that was the 2019 World Cup semi-final, but deep scars stay scars even when left alone.
The spectre of not turning up in knockout games hovered over Virat Kohli even before he stepped foot on the grass of Manchester. He had failed in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy and the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup, and recency bias impelled fans to conveniently forget the crucial cameos he played in the finals of the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy.
To say that the game against New Zealand strengthened the case of his detractors would be an understatement. Kohli's dismissal in the 3rd over (to a left-armer, no less) helped his critics build parapet walls around their case and armed them with an artillery that could have even destroyed the country of New Zealand.
After all, how could Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the world and highest-averaging ODI player from a Test-playing nation in the history of the sport we so proudly call ours, leave his team reeling at 5/2? How could Virat Kohli, who averages 54.83 in England and 49.66 against New Zealand in ODI cricket, score just 1 run?
And most of all, how could Virat Kohli, India's pride and joy in the "Fab 4" of world cricket, be outplayed by Kane Williamson, who notched up a sedate, match-winning 67 after coming in at 1/1?
The public's love for Williamson only flamed wildly after the events that transpired a few nights later at the home of cricket, Lord's. The barest of margins saw the Blackcaps fall agonizingly short in a second successive World Cup final.
But the team's skipper smilingly took the loss on the chin, and failed to point fingers at the outrageous boundary count rule that robbed New Zealand of a result that would've allowed its rugby-rabid fans a taste of the euphoria of cricket.
Williamson didn't win the World Cup (he scored 30 in the final), but he enhanced his reputation as a virtuous gentleman who carries himself with class and grace - and rightly so. Kohli, on the other hand, must have felt distinctly alone and disconsolate on his flight back to India.
The IPL and Virat Kohli's unending tale of woe
Virat Kohli and RCB have adopted various strategies and fielded numerous teams on their quest for the elusive Holy Grail that is the IPL crown. The infamous tale of woe wrote its latest chapter yesterday, and tensions among fans who have so far sworn by the club during these times of despair are flaring fiercely.
Kohli was a soldier yesterday, but he shouldn't have been. He promoted himself to an opening slot to face up against a bowler who has gotten him out more times than any other in the IPL - Sandeep Sharma. He bravely shielded Aaron Finch from the new ball, which has tormented and tortured the Aussie limited-overs captain on end this year.
In the process, the skipper thrust himself into the firing line, took a bullet for his troubles, and left the RCB army without a general to shepherd them to victory. But Kohli's a fighter who has imbibed this virtue in his team, and inspired spells of bowling from Mohammed Siraj and Adam Zampa ensured that RCB were well in the game right from the end of the powerplay.
But once again, Kane Williamson's calm head and supple wrists wrested the game back in favour of SRH. Shivam Dube was crunched through extra cover with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel. Navdeep Saini was caressed past the keeper almost apologetically with the grace of a ballet dancer. Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal were pumped beyond the long boundaries at Abu Dhabi in a rare show of rage. And just like that, RCB were knocked out of yet another IPL.
The innings Williamson played in the 2019 World Cup semi-final and the 2020 IPL Eliminator were very different.
The first was an artist in front of a massive crowd on the biggest stage, conducting the orchestra to perfection and hypnotising onlookers into screaming for an encore with an understated show of elegance. The second was a man in the comfort of the 22 yards he calls home, almost in a trance-like state with a heightened sense of belonging in the absence of a baying horde of fans.
But Virat Kohli, who averages only 26.33 in IPL playoffs, was the virtuoso who wilted spectacularly under pressure, bungling a number of notes to be misrepresented and left shamefaced.
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The intangibles that grant legends G.O.A.T status
Virat Kohli might be the most consistent batsman since the great Sir Don Bradman, but fans have been quick to single out his shortcomings in high-pressure games. This trend has manifested itself not only in cricket but in a number of other sports.
Lionel Messi might be the most gifted player to ever kick a football, but losses in the finals of the World Cup and the Copa America have dented his glowing resume.
LeBron James might be the most well-rounded player the game of basketball has ever seen, but 6 losses in the NBA Finals have lost him the edge as far as G.O.A.T status is concerned.
Both Messi and James may not have had the greatest supporting casts during many of these defeats, but fans are far from merciful and realistic when it comes to expectations from the biggest stars. And the failures of these superstars have been laid bare by the accomplishments of their fierce rivals - in this case, Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Jordan.
In a similar vein, Virat Kohli is being hounded by Kane Williamson in all three formats, and slowly but steadily, his legacy is coming under threat. Yesterday's IPL 2020 Eliminator only furthered the theory that the 32-year-old needs to register at least a couple of Man of the Match performances in the knockout games that he will inevitably take part in in the future.
The Virat Kohli-Kane Williamson rivalry might soon carve a niche for itself in the annals of sporting history, and we must appreciate it while it lasts. However, Williamson repeatedly outplaying Kohli in knockout games is a trend that the Indian captain must attempt to set straight at the earliest.
What are your thoughts on Kohli's failures in knockout games? Have your say in the comments!
Published 07 Nov 2020, 21:16 IST