World Cup: Captaincy transforms Virat to King Kohli

It is easy to stereotype Kohli and call him a brash Delhi lad but there is more to him than his mountain of runs and occasional outburst.

Kohli has relished the cushion of a good start and had the maturity to play second fiddle to Rohit Sharma in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.   -  FILE PHOTO/ AFP

 

Supreme command at the batting crease, athleticism on the turf and the odd sliver of bubbling anger largely defined the Virat Kohli persona. At least until recently, but here in England, the Indian captain has been transitioning from a combative cricketer to a more considerate rival. He has displayed his exhaustive bouquet of skills and yet has kept a lid on the simmering tensions that overwhelmed him in the past.

In the current World Cup, Kohli the batsman has so far played his part. After a middling 18 in the opener featuring South Africa, he etched an 82 against Australia and in the high-stakes clash involving Pakistan, Kohli’s yield was a rapid 77. His knocks added incremental value to a top-order that has clicked despite losing Shikhar Dhawan to a thumb injury sustained during the latter’s century against Australia.

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Kohli has relished the cushion of a good start and had the maturity to play second fiddle to Rohit Sharma, who has slammed two hundreds in this championship. But Kohli cannot be a willow-wielder lurking in the shadows and against Australia or Pakistan, it was obvious that he could activate his aggressive switch at will. And on the field, be it diving full length in the inner-circle, rifling in throws or sprinting to stifle a certain four racing through the outfield, Kohli has been in his elements.

India captain Virat Kohli hugs Pakistan all-rounder Imad Wasim after winning the high-profile clash in Manchester.   -  AP

 

But rather refreshingly, Kohli the individual has got more traction in newsprint and over the digital space. It started with his magnanimous gesture at the Oval, signalling to raucous Indian fans, asking them to stop booing Steve Smith, who is coming back after last summer’s ball-tampering episode. The Indian skipper later told the media: “I felt bad and wouldn’t have liked the same thing to happen to me.”

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Empathy was again evident during the pressure-soaked contest against Pakistan. Wahab Riaz slipped in his follow-through and Kohli stepped across and enquired. Incidentally, he also walked presuming that he edged Mohammad Amir though replays later proved inconclusive. Earlier, there was much banter between him and Amir. It may be recalled that when Amir made a comeback following a ban he suffered for a spot-fixing crisis which derailed Pakistan, Kohli gifted a bat to the left-arm speedster.

Mohammad Amir and Virat Kohli share a light moment during the India-Pakistan match in Manchester.   -  AP

 

It is easy to stereotype Kohli and call him a brash Delhi lad. But there is more to him than his mountain of runs and occasional outburst. Perhaps he is looking inwards while supporting the rehabilitation of flawed players within the opposition ranks. Many summers ago, during his early days with Royal Challengers Bangalore, he bared his heart to a group of reporters at the ITC Gardenia hotel.

In a cozy room with windows revealing Bangalore's green canopies, Kohli spoke about how after leading India to an Under-19 World Cup triumph, the trappings of being an instant celebrity, caused him to indulge a bit. He soon realised that the game is supreme and had to be respected. There was a course correction, he became fitter, embraced fierce focus and proved that he had it in him to eventually move into the realm of greatness.

Kohli celebrates Vijay Shankar's first-ball wicket in the World Cup match against Pakistan in Manchester.   -  AP

 

Kohli isn’t perfect and none are. The manner in which Anil Kumble had to resign as India’s coach raised many questions. But barring that unsavoury segment and a few previous incidents in which his mannerisms bordered on the provocative, Kohli has mellowed down. In the current World Cup, he rightly toned down the hype around the encounter involving Pakistan, graciously said England could breach the 500-mark, and has shifted the limelight to his team-mates in press conferences.

A secure leader and a man in control over his emotions, augurs well for India, especially in a massive tournament where a cool head is the best antidote when fires rage all around.