Inspiring respect and dread

In almost involuntarily drawing traits from his illustrious predecessors and marrying them with his own firm convictions, Virat Kolhi has gradually but seamlessly graduated from a captain to a leader.

From trying to set the agenda for his batting colleagues, Virat Kohli has finally come to terms with the fact that each one is unique and must be allowed to do what he is best at. It is no coincidence that Cheteshwar Pujara was the uber-influence behind India’s marauding run in Australia.   -  Reuters

In just his first Test as captain, Virat Kohli made three resounding statements. One, that he wasn’t averse to taking left-field, out-of-the-box decisions. Two, that in pursuit of victory, defeat was an acceptable outcome. And three, that he had the mental fortitude to not just insulate his batting from the cares of captaincy, but actually feed off the additional responsibility.

That was a little over four years back, in Adelaide in December 2014, when he was standing in for the injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Leg-spinner Karn Sharma’s shock inclusion — because he was “bowling well at nets” — at the expense of the more pedigreed R. Ashwin was the first indication that Kohli would be his own man. The furious, sustained chase of 364 that fell 48 runs short affirmed an aggressive mien that scoffed at the battening down of the hatches even when the writing was on the wall. And brilliant centuries in both innings confirmed that he had the wherewithal to compartmentalise captaincy and batting.

Little has happened in the intervening period to suggest that Kohli has retracted any of those mantras around which his captaincy revolves. Understandably, with time, he has evolved into a more rounded and less impulsive captain, but his innate positivity remains a glittering calling card that has catapulted him to within two victories of becoming India’s winningest Test skipper.

Most significantly, as the world gravitates alarmingly towards instant gratification, Kohli has made no secret of his fondness for the longest format, or his and his team’s commitment towards ensuring that Test cricket is treated with the reverence and respect it deserves. As the captain of not just the No. 1-ranked Test outfit, but also the side that has the most, and the most frenzied, fan following, Kohli believes it is his responsibility to spread the charm of red-ball cricket far and wide.

Virat Kohli is quite the bowlers’ captain, empowering them to take responsibility for their fields and their craft.   -  AP

 

His delight at India’s conquest of Australia in its own backyard for the first time stemmed not so much from having rewritten history as successfully meeting a formidable challenge head-on, fuelled by the belief that his warriors were second to none when it came to skills, ambition, desire, hunger and desperation. In the immediacy of the 2-1 triumph that extended India’s grip on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Kohli’s revelation of his vision for Indian cricket was as telling as it was heart-warming for traditionalists who have watched with increasing alarm the growing hold of franchise-based Twenty20 leagues globally.

“I see this series as a stepping stone for this team to inspire the next lot of Test cricketers, to be passionate about Test cricket firstly,” he said, with feeling, at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “If the Indian team respects Test cricket, we know fans are going to come in and watch Test cricket. The vision is to promote Test cricket back home, to make kids realise that there is no greater satisfaction than playing Test cricket and winning series like these. Doing well in series like this improves you as a person, not just as a cricketer. In a world where a lot of people want the easy stuff, matches that finish in the evening, it’s important to spread that message. As long as the purest format stays alive, cricket will be healthy. I would want to always promote the message of Test cricket being the most important and the most valued format of the game.”

From the stormy petrel thirsting for a fight to an almost statesman-like approach, especially in propagating the values of the Test format, Kohli’s evolution has been steadily spectacular. During that process, however, there has been no compromise on the core elements that have shaped the Kohli persona. His native aggression has been tempered but far from sacrificed, his passion undimmed despite the quantum of cricket he has played and the inevitable pressures of being forced to live out his private life in full public glare.

Despite being captain for 46 Tests now, he still considers himself one of the boys, the ringleader not just in non-personal sledges, but also in exhorting crowds even in foreign territories to get behind his team. In his unbridled naturalness on the park, he is more Sourav Ganguly than the introverted quartet of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Dhoni. But in almost involuntarily drawing traits from his illustrious predecessors and marrying them with his own firm convictions, he has gradually but seamlessly graduated from a captain to a leader.

In his unbridled naturalness on the park, Virat Kohli is more Sourav Ganguly than the introverted quartet of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and M. S. Dhoni.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

 

Within his unit, Kohli inspires respect and, one suspects, a touch of dread because of his strict adherence to laid-out non-negotiables. Because he leads by example, whether it comes to batting or to freakishly admirable fitness standards, his soldiers are compelled to follow suit. He is quite the bowlers’ captain, empowering them to take responsibility for their fields and their craft; over time, he has also learnt to be more patient with the batsmen, too. From trying to set the agenda for his batting colleagues, he has finally come to terms with the fact that each one is unique and must be allowed to do what he is best at.

It is no coincidence that Cheteshwar Pujara was the uber-influence behind India’s marauding run in Australia as he blunted rather than bludgeoned the home attack into submission.

Beyond his dressing room, he triggers equal measures of awe and infuriation, reverence and anger. The same actions that excite his followers are dismissed as the shenanigans of a prima donna by those that hold him to convenient standards of acceptable behaviour. Of his batting, however, there are no two opinions. He is clearly the best in the world, home and away, against red ball and white, against searing pace, whooping swing and crafty spin. That he has retained that status for so long while also ensuring that his team’s hold on the top Test ranking becomes more vice-like with each passing day is alone enough for the cricket world to embrace the Kohli phenomenon in its entirety.

At some stage in 2019, Kohli is certain to slide by Dhoni’s mark of 27 and numerically become India’s most successful Test captain. It won’t be a stretch to assert that by the time he gets off the hot seat, he would also have become the country’s best leader, ever. As legacies go, that’s as good as it gets.