As jarring as it was to watch the top-order collapse of the Indian cricket team, the valiant efforts of Jadeja-Dhoni in the middle order and the close defeat India faced against New Zealand in the Semifinal of World Cup 2019, the performance of several players also raised questions on their record in knockout matches i.e. quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. The true grit, perseverance and most importantly patience of players are truly tested in the knockout matches where one bad day (or even an over) makes all the previous efforts essentially worthless. In the league matches, India performed exceptionally well, losing only one game in 9 matches (one match was washed out). But the stellar performance in the league went in vain as India is now out of the contention for the Cup. Admittedly, the semifinal match was a thrilling one, as any cricket purist would like a knockout match to be and the defeat does not mean India played absolutely badly, the team was simply outclassed by the Kiwis. The performance of some players, especially batsmen, though raises the question of whether the pressure of the ‘must-win’ knockout match really got to them and whether is there a pattern in this? Indian top-order, with some of the best batsmen in world cricket as of now, completely collapsed. Invariably, this warrants a closer analysis of the record of some of the supposedly top Indian batsmen in crucial knock-out matches. Now, let us find out who really has the nerves of steel essential for knockout matches.
First, let us discuss the elephant in the room, Virat Kohli. Hailed as one of the greatest batsmen of the modern cricket, number one batsman in ICC ranking, Kohli’s record in crucial knockout games tell a different story. So far, Kohli has played 14 innings in as many knockout ODI matches and has averaged at 31.36, well below his career average of 59.70 in ODI format. Kohli has scored 50+ only twice in these 14 games and his average drops considerably when playing against major teams in knockout games (29.16). The same story plays out with his strike rate as well. While Kohli’s overall average strike rate is respectable 91.0, in knockout matches, his strike rate drops to 83.13.
As is evident, Kohli has a dismal record when it comes to knockout games, in complete contrast to his image as a ‘match-winner’.
Now, coming to another legend of Indian cricket who has often been termed ‘the best finisher in the world’ and is considered the backbone of Indian middle order, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. No true Indian cricket fan can ever forget the 2011 World Cup final inning of Dhoni (91 not out). But, the question is whether Dhoni has shown the consistency in knockout matches deserving of the laurels heaped upon him?
In 11 knockout matches, Dhoni has played 9 innings (excluding the World Cup ’19 semifinal) and has scored 226 runs averaging 28.25 with a strike rate of 90.03. In these crucial matches, Dhoni has scored only 2 half centuries with no centuries to his record. In contrast, his career average in ODI is 50.57.
To paraphrase Vladimir Putin, if you don’t remember Dhoni’s 2011 WC final inning, you don’t have a heart and if you ONLY remember that inning, you don’t have a mind.
Now, let us see how these two current legends compare to arguably the best batsman in the history of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. The critics of Sachin make it a point to state that Sachin was never a ‘big game player’ and had the tendency to ‘choke’ in crucial, pressure games. This criticism is again a product of ignorance. In 52 knockout games, Sachin played 51 innings. He scored 2431 runs with an average of 52.84 and a strike rate of 85.65. In knockout games, Sachin scored seven centuries and 14 half-centuries. India registered victory in every knockout game Sachin scored a century.
As the records state, Sachin is by far the pick of the lot with a clear margin. Even the mind-boggling stats fail to account for the additional pressure and weight of expectations every time Sachin came to bat. As is clear, when it comes to performing under tremendous pressure in crucial matches, Sachin is a class apart here as well.