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Kapil Dev: 'If Kohli isn't performing, you can't keep youngsters out'

Former captain urges selectors to "play in-form players" and "not just go by reputation"

Virat Kohli reacts on the field during the Babar Azam-Mohammad Rizwan partnership, India vs Pakistan, T20 World Cup, Group 2, Dubai, October 24, 2021

"At the moment, Virat Kohli isn't playing like the Kohli we know" - Kapil Dev  •  ICC via Getty

Utilise those players who are in form, don't go by reputation alone, and prepare to make tough calls even if it happens to be someone of the stature of Virat Kohli: this is essentially Kapil Dev's message to India's selectors as they build towards this year's T20 World Cup in Australia.
"Play in-form players when you have loads of options," Kapil told ABP News. "You can't just go by reputation, but you have to look for current form. You can be an established player but that doesn't mean that you will be given chances even if you fail five games in a row."
Kapil was asked specifically if Kohli can fit into India's current plans given his own lean run and how well Suryakumar Yadav and Deepak Hooda have performed in his absence.
Kohli is coming off an underwhelming IPL where he managed just two half-centuries for Royal Challengers Bangalore. In all T20s in 2022, he has so far struck at 115 in the middle overs; Suryakumar, Hooda, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant have all scored at a faster clip in this period.
"Yes, there will be a headache, but he will have to perform better," Kapil said. "If world No. 2 Test bowler Ashwin can be dropped from Test side then your No. 1 batter can also be dropped.
"I hope Kohli scores runs. And if there's a [selection] challenge after that, it's a big one. At the moment, Virat Kohli isn't playing like the Kohli we know, the one that has made him a legend through his performances.
"If he isn't performing, you can't continue to keep these boys [youngsters] out. I hope there's a healthy fight for selection, the youngsters should look to outperform Kohli. But Kohli needs to think, 'yes at one point I was a big player, but I need to play like that No. 1 player again'. That's a problem for the team, it's not a bad problem."
Kapil also wasn't in favour of big players being left out time and again in the name of "rest." He felt there should be merit in picking and dropping someone.
"You can call it rest; you can call it dropped. Every person will have his views," he said. "If you [selectors] haven't picked him, you can say we've rested the big players because they aren't performing.
"Kohli has a lot of ability and talent. You hope such a player comes back. It's not as if you completely leave him out. If he isn't performing now, it's fine [to leave him]. Youngsters are playing well. If you can keep Ashwin out, you can keep anyone out."
Meanwhile, Wasim Jaffer, the former India opener, felt the pressure to perform could yet bring out Kohli's best, but he hoped the return of senior players shouldn't come at the cost of India's new batting approach of going big from the outset.
"Hooda's performance will put pressure on Virat Kohli when he comes back," he said. "You've got a guy who has done so well, performed consistently in the IPL and the T20Is as well. The pressure might bring out the best of Virat Kohli.
"The big guys who are missing, KL Rahul (after recovering from injury) and Virat, are going to come back. But India will be happy that they have got the guys to back them up. However, the approach needs to be similar. This is the brand of cricket they need to play if they want to dominate this format. This is something we would like to see from the main guys as well."