“This is my last T20I game for India,” declared Virat Kohli after winning the Man of the Match award one last time, finally being able to call himself a T20 World Cup winner in the process. Kohli’s retirement will leave a void in the hearts of millions, but they can take heart in the fact that the emotional crescendo was a perfect conclusion for a cricketing maestro who had dominated the format for over a decade. 

Winning the T20 World Cup was a fairy-tale ending, and one that Kohli - having had to deal with heartbreaks despite being personally outstanding in 3 separate editions of the tournament - richly deserved.

For someone who seemed to score runs in T20 World Cups for fun, Kohli’s run in his final edition of the tournament did not go smoothly. He struggled with form and was visibly upset with his performances. But the support from his captain, Rohit Sharma, and coach, Rahul Dravid, kept the faith alive. Rohit confidently stated after the semi-final, “Kohli is saving his best for the final,” while Dravid assured everyone that “something big is coming from Virat Kohli.” 

In an innings reminiscent of MS Dhoni - who had endured a quiet 2011 World Cup before THAT knock in the final - Kohli dug in and scored a valiant match-winning 76 to help take India to the highest total ever scored in a T20 World Cup final. Jasprit Bumrah led an incredible fightback from the bowlers, and Kohli’s swan song ended in triumph. The final, poignant image of Rohit Sharma hugging Virat Kohli, both announcing their T20I retirements within minutes of each other, will remain etched in cricketing lore forever.

The Rise of a Legend

Virat Kohli's journey to international prominence began with the victorious 2008 Under-19 World Cup, a springboard that launched him into the international arena. After making his ODI debut the same year, Kohli took another two years to step into the T20I format. 

Kohli’s initial years in T20Is were a slow burn. He registered his first half-century in 2012, scoring 68 against Sri Lanka in Kandy. The 2012 T20 World Cup marked the true arrival of Kohli in the shortest format, amassing 185 runs in 5 games and establishing himself as a formidable T20I player.

Dominating the World Stage

The 2014 T20 World Cup came when Kohli was at the height of his powers. It almost seemed like the international arena was his playground. He scored 319 runs - the highest in the tournament - and showcased his brilliance with an unbeaten 72 against South Africa in the semi-final and a hard-fought 77 in the final against Sri Lanka. Kohli was named Player of the Tournament despite India failing at the final hurdle.

If Kohli was batting on “easy” mode in 2014, it seemed like he had entered a cheat code in 2016. Kohli began the year with three consecutive fifties in the T20Is against Australia and followed it with an iconic 82* against the same opponents at the T20 World Cup in Mohali. This innings was broadly considered to be one of the finest knocks in T20 World Cups - only bettered, perhaps, by Kohli himself a few years later, against Pakistan. Kohli’s masterclass 89* against eventual champions West Indies was sadly not enough for India, but Kohli’s 273 runs earned him a second successive Player of the Tournament accolade.

The Tumultuous Phase and the Resurgence

From November 2019 to September 2022, Kohli faced one of the most challenging phases of his career. While runs kept coming,  centuries had dried up, and the pressure of expectations mounted with each game. Trolls and critics were relentless, but Kohli's spirit remained unbroken.

The turning point came on September 8, 2022, in the Asia Cup. With Kohli’s T20 form in question and in a format he was least likely to break his shackles, Kohli notched up his 71st international century - his first in T20Is - against Afghanistan. The celebration was a sigh of relief for Kohli, and the dam that had been pent up for such an uncharacteristically long period had finally broken.

Kohli was back to scoring centuries in international cricket, and the resultant boost in form also resulted in one of the most unbelievable innings in T20 history. In the high-octane clash against Pakistan during the 2022 T20 World Cup, Kohli once again proved himself the master of the chase. With 160 to win, India was in dire straits at 31 for 4. Kohli ran hard, converted every opportunity he found into runs, and took India deep. 

With India needing 28 runs off 8 balls, Kohli played what is now one of the most unforgettable shots in recent times: A straight six off Haris Rauf, the physics of which bordered on impossible. The next ball went for another six, this time an almost casual flick through square leg. It still took a no ball and a wide in the final over to take India through, but the occasion, the conditions, the ground, and the opposition combined to make this an innings that has gone down in many fans’ minds as the greatest ever in T20Is.

The Final Flourish

The 2024 T20 World Cup journey began on shaky ground for Kohli. The early matches were marred by his struggle for form. Yet, amidst the pressure, Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid’s faith in him became the cornerstone of his resurgence. 

The final match saw Kohli rise to the occasion, as he always has in the face of adversity. Scoring a masterful 76, he guided India out of a precarious situation, setting the stage for the bowlers to secure the title. Kohli’s efforts earned him the Player of the Match award, a fitting end to his T20I career.

As the highest run-scorer in T20 World Cups (1292 runs), he left an indelible mark on the format. With 16 Man of the Match awards in T20Is and 8 in T20 World Cups - the most by any player - Kohli proved time and again that he was the man for big occasions. His average of 67.10 in run chases is the highest for any player with at least 500 runs, underscoring his reputation as a master chaser.

The Unmatched Legacy

Virat Kohli’s legacy in T20Is is unparalleled. His contributions have set a benchmark that will challenge future generations. As he bids adieu to T20Is, the cricketing world celebrates a career that has inspired millions. Kohli’s absence will be felt, but his legacy will continue to inspire and challenge cricketers around the globe.

For a man who won an ODI World Cup, a Champions Trophy, an Under-19 World Cup, and the Test mace, it is fitting that on his last day as an active T20I cricketer, he would also be able to call himself a T20 World Cup winner. But there is some respite for his fans, as he should return to feature in the IPL next season.