He's central to the selectors' plans

Virat Kohli...being groomed for the hottest seat in Indian sport.-AP

If more youngsters can find inspiration in the way Virat Kohli has reshaped his career, it will surely add more power to the selectors' signature while they craft a team for the future, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

There have been a few moments before in Indian cricket when the promise of youth was celebrated with the same fervour that Pakistan reserves for its fast bowlers, often picked straight from street cricket. One such instance was when Sachin Tendulkar got his India cap as a 16-year old in 1989.

Virat Kohli's appointment as M.S. Dhoni's deputy for the Asia Cup, commencing in Dhaka on March 11, is the latest seminal moment in a team that is struggling with transition. In one stroke, K. Srikkanth and company overlooked Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina, who led India during Dhoni's previous breaks from the shorter version. The resting of Virender Sehwag also cleared the way for Kohli's elevation. Much like Dhoni, who leapt over his seniors — Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh — in the leadership sweepstakes, the 23-year-old Kohli has done the same to his established peers.

These initial steps towards his inevitable elevation to Indian sports' hottest seat — the National cricket team's captaincy — have come at a good time for Kohli though the same cannot be said of the ‘Men in Blue.' Kohli was India's highest run-scorer (300) in the Tests against Australia and he also topped the aggregate (373) in the Commonwealth Bank Series that concluded in dismay for Dhoni's men.

Kohli's blazing ton (133 n.o.) against Sri Lanka in Hobart, will perhaps be the benchmark that will tinge his report card for the rest of what promises to be a fine career in the making. The next day, emerging from the Cricket Centre in Mumbai, Srikkanth said: “We have to start looking towards the future. The selection committee felt that Kohli is future captaincy material.”

Kohli's appointment hints at the selectors' gaze towards the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The recent lows in Australia have added a shrill tone to the clamour for backing young blood but it can be a double-edged sword as except for Kohli, the others — Raina (182 runs), Rohit Sharma (79) and Ravindra Jadeja (101) — failed in the CB Series.

However, lads torn within the whirlpool of spiked hair, rousing shots, acrobatic dives and a sense of irreverence need to be nurtured though there has to be a rider — the junior crop should reveal consistency and the right attitude in equal proportions. Some summers ago when Greg Chappell took over as the Indian team's coach, he said within the leafy expanse of Bangalore's Taj Westend: “Ignore youth at your own peril.” It is a line he re-visited again in his latest column in The Hindu and it is a truism that cannot be lost under cobwebs.

Yuvraj was 18 when he grabbed the headlines in Nairobi. More than a decade later, he was still consistent, with a ‘Player of the Tournament' performance during the last World Cup, which India won comprehensively. Now an indisposed Yuvraj might be fighting hard to recover and reclaim his spot but the larger fact that underlined his career is that backing the right talent can bring forth delirious rewards.

Life is not just about black and white because it is the complex shades of grey that perplex and add value. It is the same about squads and selection. Inexplicably in the ‘find-a-scapegoat' drama, Sachin Tendulkar's name has been drawn in, but to attribute sentimentalism behind his inclusion in the Asia Cup-bound team would be doing a disservice to the selectors, who had the courage to strike out Harbhajan Singh's name since the England tour.

The truth is, except for Kohli, the charge of the young brigade is yet to fructify fully and until then the selectors will walk the tight-rope between fielding the best team and the urge to have fleet-footed boys. The road ahead for Tendulkar is much shorter and the selectors will weave in more youngsters as and when the time comes though it is a travesty that Manoj Tiwary spent all his time on the benches in Australia!

Man-management, especially the art of dealing with seniors like Virender Sehwag, is something that Kohli should learn fast.-K.R. DEEPAK

Ricky Ponting's ouster from the Australian ODI squad, done with that strange mix of grace and ruthlessness, may have triggered the subtle demands in the blogosphere about similar acts with the Indian team. At the same time, the retention of Michael Hussey should be acknowledged for what it reflects — the Australian selectors too are striking a balance between ‘pragmatism' and ‘looking-forward.'

The building-towards-the-World-Cup preamble is not set in stone. In 1987, Navjot Singh Sidhu clattered sixes in a preparatory camp and was immediately picked for the then Indian World Cup squad led by Kapil Dev. Sidhu did remarkably well and it proves that teams evolve in the blink of an eye, just that the selectors need to be aware of the present while also peering at the horizon.

Kohli's elevation to the vice-captain's post is a reality that was shaped by present form as well as the need to groom the ideal candidate for the years to come. It is a journey that seemed pre-ordained because all those who have come in contact with Kohli the cricketer, have found a latent wisdom despite the simmering anger that occasionally mars his stints on the turf.

Ray Jennings, the Royal Challengers Bangalore coach, had quipped a few years ago that Kohli could be the future captain of his franchise, a task that the youngster handled intermittently when regular skipper Daniel Vettori was away. The environment though could have been better as veiled barbs exchanged by Dhoni, Sehwag and Gambhir will test Kohli in the change rooms.

Kohli has the skills that can come in handy while he handles the pressure of being the number two to Dhoni. The latest vice-captain is articulate, rides on immense self-belief and his success in Australia has earned him that key brownie point — respect of team-mates and rivals. The thin red line though is his propensity to let his lips quiver with profanities. The finger-wagging at abusive fans, could have been avoided because he is a no mere 23-year old coping with an identity crisis or road-rage. He is an Indian cricketer and his is a job that combines a sportsman's adrenaline rush with the calmness of a diplomat.

Kohli's has been a life that can give a roller-coaster an inferiority complex. From being dropped from the Indian squad to his current exalted status, Kohli has seen it all. In December 2006, he froze his tear glands and rescued Delhi in a Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka before performing the last rites of his father.

Later, in 2008, Kohli led India to an Under-19 World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur. Talent and toughness were finally spotted residing in the same frame and Kohli was talked about as the next-big Indian player. Pitch-forked into the Indian ODI team in 2008, Kohli soon lost his way in the glare of party lights. “I realised I was on the wrong track,” he said in an interview later and once introspection set in, the road to redemption revealed itself.

If more youngsters can find inspiration in the way Kohli has reshaped his career, it will surely add more power to the selectors' signature while they craft a team for the future.