Virat Kohli: A once-in-a-generation cricketer, and a self-made man

Gear up for a Virat Kohli show at Mohali. There are milestones and new benchmarks awaiting him.

Virat Kohli in action.   -  Getty Images

He is the best collaborator in the dressing room. His infectious confidence unerringly inspires those feeling low in the face of loss of form. There is a unique quality - aggression of taking on the best - that creates a niche set of followers for Virat Kohli. He has made no known compromise in his career and that speaks for his strong character. He knows how to confront adversity by himself. How else did he rise to play 100 Tests and join an elite club where  each member is an icon.

Driving around on his father’s two-wheeler on Delhi’s bumpy roads, Kohli chased a dream and prepared himself to tackle the hard situations that he faced - beginning with being rejected by the Delhi selectors. That was the first and the earliest lesson - to set your own terms and give no chance to others to strike. As he observed some of the stalwarts of Indian cricket from close quarters, he made his mental notes to imbibe their strong points.

Kohli studied the flair of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, the discipline of Sachin Tendulkar, the resilience of Rahul Dravid, and the patience of MS Dhoni. He admired them secretly and, with time, emerged a fascinating cricketer. A batter who reveled in all formats of the game and left a huge impact on world cricket with his style. There was nothing that really caused him any discomfort at the crease.

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Observe his gait to the middle. He appears in a hurry to begin his assignment with a quick guard, a glance at the field, and into his comfortable stance. He personifies self-belief at a batting position that is so critical to the team. As fearless as any batter the game has known, Kohli’s enviable trait to swing matches single-handed is easily his greatest asset.

If he has distinguished himself so admirably, a few times he did cross the line, the reason is his fierce focus. We know how Tendullkar would spend sleepless nights before crucial matches. Kohli is no different. He visualises the game situation, at times preempting the dead-end he could encounter, and enhance his stature as the premier batter in world cricket.

India's captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli during a practice session ahead of the first cricket test match against Sri Lanka.   -  PTI

 

The Anil Kumble episode was a blot indeed. The manner in which he felt that Kumble’s position in the dressing room was untenable. True, Kohli was the king of cricket during that phase and called the shots, much to the dismay of some of the game’s greats who did not approve of the disturbing ouster of Kumble. Another time, he expressed his anger in an unwise act by shouting into the stump mike in a Test in South Africa. He appeared a different Kohli.

The batting exploits of Kohli are too well documented. Some astonishing shots that left the cricket world in a trance. There was this back-foot six at Pune off Chris Woakes in an ODI. The commentators went bonkers. “Short-arm jab. Unbelievable. Backfoot punch over wide mid-on. High elbow. Not a bottom-handed shot. Not seen anything like this,” they raved.

Kohli himself was surprised at the execution of the shots. It had the fluency of Garry Sobers, who could pull off some incredible shots. Like the one straight-drive off Richie Benaud in a Test in Australia. Sobers was committed to play a front footed shot to a ball that he had misread. Benaud knew he had his man. Midway through the act of celebrating, Benaud was stunned to see the ball flash past him. Sobers had stretched to connect the ball with the middle of the bat. That was the work of a genius. Just as Kohli’s was that night at Pune.

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Sense of insecurity was alien to Kohli. He was determined to introduce a demanding work culture. And he did with conviction. He did not just preach. “I will not ask my teammates to do what I don’t myself,” he had told this reporter once. So, the teammates had to be on their toes. It helped them improve their fitness and take their individual game a notch higher because the captain was keeping an eye. If, at times, the players thought Kohli was intrusive and overwhelming in his approach the ultimate beneficiary was not Kohli. He was not a bully as some of his critics claimed. Like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, he was not going to tolerate indiscipline and that made him a target of some in the last few years.

Kohli is a spectator’s delight. He is also a broadcaster’s delight. There is art in his defence. There is also pure joy when he hits the ball. The cover drive is as pristine as the on drive. The flick off his pads is a breathtaking moment of battership. He builds his innings in phases, quick and slow. He cannot be intimidated by the challenges of the situation or the session. His love for Test cricket brought crowds back to the venues for the longest format of the game. Administrators the world over have acknowledged Kohli’s contribution as a stellar cricketer and a senior statesman of the game.

A once-in-a-generation cricketer, Kohli has been a self-made man with loyalty well ingrained. His association with childhood coach, Rajkumar Sharma, and Royal Challengers Bangalore, only reconfirms his priorities. Kohli is not flawless. None can be. But he has ensured that he did not take his place and position for granted and was willing to punish himself to stay relevant. When he steps on to the field at Mohali to feature in his 100th Test, his thoughts would revolve around those scooter rides when his father took him to distant venues in the Capital for a game of cricket. The senior Kohli had facilitated a future star player take baby steps in the harsh world of international cricket. The son has made the nation and his late father proud.

Gear up for a Kohli show at Mohali. There are milestones and new benchmarks awaiting him. The Punjab Cricket Association Stadium may be half full when he takes guard but a massive audience across the globe will be glued to the small screen to celebrate this modern great’s accomplishment.

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