Virat Kohli - the torchbearer of Test cricket

Apart from being, arguably, the best contemporary batsman, Virat Kohli is also the most important person in our game; his vision for Indian cricket is vital for the future of Test cricket.

Virat Kohli, by his actions, has shown that he regards Test cricket as supreme.   -  PTI

The word Virat has many meanings in Indian languages. One is Brilliant. Another is majestic. Yet another is very big. Not to forget, King. Virat Kohli is certainly all of the above and more.

Yet, he is not everybody’s cup of chai. He occasionally rubs a few people up the wrong way, with his abrasiveness. As Donald Rumsfeld said, “Don’t necessarily avoid sharp edges. Occasionally they are necessary to leadership.”

Kohli has some sharp edges, but, more importantly, he has a sharp mind and a fiery hunger to lead India to a place where they have rarely been before; to be the foremost Test match team in the world. Love him or not, I think he is a divine gift to cricket.

Apart from being, arguably, the best contemporary batsman, Virat Kohli is also the most important person in our game.

Test cricket is under threat from within and without like never before and it needs India, as the game’s powerhouse, to show leadership, persistence and faith in the longest form of the game.

Kohli, by his actions, has shown that he regards Test cricket as supreme. India has not played as much Test cricket in a year for decades and if it is not a coincidence, I would suggest it is happening because of Kohli’s passion for the multi-day format and his desire to see it treated with respect. If Kohli was lukewarm about Test cricket, I doubt that India would be playing as much of it as they have this year and is planned for the next few years.

I get the distinct impression that he wants to be recognised and remembered for his record in the most demanding form of the game. On current form, he is well on-track to become one of India’s greatest batsmen and he has some big names in his sights.

All of this augurs well for the oldest format as the new kid on the block, T20, is making huge waves and incursions around the world and is putting pressure on the time available for Test cricket.

No short cuts

A positive for visiting teams with Kohli’s desire to have Indian teams able to play well overseas as well as at home is that he wants to play Test matches on typical Indian pitches rather than the “designer” or “tailor-made” versions that have been rolled out in recent years. This is another indication of Kohli’s esteem for and belief in the long-term future of the format, and his aspiration to be recognised as a redoubtable exponent of it, in all conditions.

As a batsman, Kohli competes with the likes of Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and David Warner for the best player of his era. Each of them is an exceptional cricketer, but I get the feeling that this is not a major concern for Kohli, whose focus is resolutely fixed on some big names much closer to home.

Kohli grew up with the names of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly dominating the media when they formed, the best batting line-up that India has ever boasted. I expect that his name will be mentioned in the same breath as Tendulkar, Dravid and Sehwag in the future.

But, for this to be possible, India may have to keep playing Test matches in the volume that has been seen this year. In his career so far, he has had 90 Test innings, which is well behind the 180 of Sehwag, 288 of Dravid and the inconceivable 329 innings that Tendulkar played.

Given that Kohli didn’t commence his career until he was 22 - compared to Tendulkar at 16, it is hard to imagine that he can play long enough to reach the brobdingnagian number of innings that Tendulkar achieved, but he is right on track in regard to big scores.

His 15 hundreds and three scores in excess of 200 already compares well with his three eminent predecessors. At the same stage of their careers (90 innings), Tendulkar had 15 centuries, Dravid had eight, plus one double hundred, while Sehwag had nine centuries, two double hundreds and one triple century.

Kohli has taken a little bit in style and substance from each of his illustrious predecessors. His simple footwork, intuitive understanding of the art of batting and his ability to score effortlessly all-round the wicket is reminiscent of the early stages of Tendulkar’s career. The big difference is that Tendulkar played at the one pace no matter the state of the game or who was bowling, which is one reason that he did not make as many big scores as other elite players.

Kohli’s determination, intelligence, strong constitution and dedication to the highest levels of fitness resemble that of Dravid.

His sense of humour and his ability to make runs in bursts during an innings, which has been the hallmark of his three double centuries this calendar year, is most evocative of the clean hitting and mercurial Sehwag… minus his insouciance.

2016 has been a remarkable year for Kohli, who has scored 1215 Test runs at over 70 with four scores over 100 of which three were double centuries. All of this happened in the second half of a year in which he made three centuries in ODI cricket in a total of 734 runs, at an average of 92 and he also averaged over 100 in 15 T20 internationals.

He is building a reputation as a formidable opponent who is at his best under pressure. His presence at the crease is intimidating and he appears to be growing stronger with each innings that he plays.

Virat has made runs everywhere except Bangladesh and England. He will surely make runs in Bangladesh before he finishes, but he is conscious that the major gap in his record is in England and it is the one that he will have to overcome to be recognised in the pantheon of champions of Indian and world cricket.

Vision of long-term value

As captain, Kohli has thrived on responsibility and his batting has gone to a new level of achievement. He is aggressive, highly competitive and leads with an easy confidence that is driven by a vivid image of where he can see that Indian cricket can go.

“It’s not the man that makes the vision; it’s the vision that makes the man,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Virat Kohli’s vision for Indian cricket is vital for the future of Test cricket.

If he can succeed in translating that into a reality and make India as formidable away from home as they are on home soil, he will have done more to ensure the long-term future of Test cricket than anything the administrators can conjure.

It is this more than all the runs that he has made, and will continue to make that makes him the single most important cricketer on the planet.

I am one of the many who sit on the sidelines and cheer him on in the name of the game, for cricket without Test cricket will not really be cricket at all.

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