He is undoubtedly the best batsman in the world. He is also, undoubtedly, the best ODI batsman of all time, according to the numbers. Virat Kohli has gone from strength to strength and has achieved unimaginable heights of success in all forms of the game. But, great players, across sports, aren't judged purely on numbers. What matters even more is their ability to perform on the big stage and under pressure.
While Lionel Messi has reached the highest peaks of success in football, he would never be considered at the same level as Diego Maradona until he rises to the occasion in a World Cup final, or, at least, a Copa America final. His inability to have done so till now has left him so frustrated, he even once announced his retirement from the game.
In cricket, Kohli seems to be having a similar problem. The dashing batsman has raised the bar of performance higher than ever before. His prolificacy and consistency has been unreal. But like Messi, how he performs in the finals and semi-finals of events like the World Cup will be remembered more vividly than all his great innings in lesser events.
Unfortunately for the 31-year old batsman, he is yet to play that great innings in a final or semi-final that would make his legend complete. In fact, when one looks at Kohli's performances in semis and finals of major ICC events, the picture isn't bad but not rosy either.
In the three World Cup semi-finals he has played, Kohli has got scores in single digits only: 9 vs Pakistan at Mohali in 2011, 1 vs Australia at Sydney in 2015 and now, 1 vs New Zealand at Manchester. What is most incredible is the fact that he has been dismissed in all these matches by a left-arm pacer: Wahab Riaz (2011), Mitchell Johnson (2015) and Trent Boult (2019). In between, he was also dismissed by Mohammad Amir, another left-arm seamer, for just 5 in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
In the 2013 Champions Trophy, he did play good innings in both the semi-final against Sri Lanka where he scored 58 not out in a chase of 182 and the rain-curtailed 20-over a side final where he managed 43 off 34 balls which proved to be crucial.
But in the 2011 World Cup final, he got out on 35 to Tillakrante Dilshan after getting set. His highest score in the matches that we are looking at came in the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final against Bangladesh where he scored an unbeaten 96 as part of India's dominant 9-wicket victory. But that innings got overshadowed by Rohit Sharma's hundred.
To be fair, even Sachin Tendulkar doesn't have even a fifty in a World Cup or Champions Trophy final. So, not getting a big hundred in the big final or even a tough semi-final isn't necessary for a person to be regarded as the greatest. But certainly, considering how ambitious and desperate for success Kohli is, he would definitely want that hundred in a final before he retires. The problem is that in a big match, even more than in other contests, he has the bull's eye firmly on him and teams make their best plans for him. Let's see whether Kohli can overcome this challenge.