Overs limited or unlimited, no limit to his skills

Virat Kholi... extremely articulate and focussed.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Virat Kohli is now seen as India’s batting fulcrum in all formats. His poise in Tests acquires an aggressive veneer in ODIs and then gains dollops of explosive energy in Twenty20s, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

There is a sense of permanence about Virat Kohli that belies logic because sport is transitory and athletes, irrespective of their talent and greatness, eventually head towards an exit gate that is nudged by time. Even an icon like Sachin Tendulkar, who stretched his career well past two decades and enriched our memory-milestones, found his toughest foe in the process of ageing.

However, cricketing twilight is extremely far on Kohli’s horizon and for now, the 25-year-old is all over the place and there are sound cricketing reasons for that. After skipper M. S. Dhoni, he is India's absolute certainty in all formats of the game. He is also tipped to lead India in the future, a taste of which he already had in the recent Asia Cup in Dhaka. There is no doubting that his talent and demeanour over the past two years have largely silenced those questions about the angry brat that resided within him during his early days in top-flight cricket.

Step onto any arterial road in India’s big cities and billboards in which Kohli is plugging shoes or cars, pop up. Open the newspapers or magazines and Kohli is there both in the sports pages and on Page Three, the latter though is no fault of his as sections of the media have no qualms in peering into the private lives of high-profile sportsmen.

Whatever be the nature of our gaze — sporting, gawking on roads or plain salacious — there is no running away from Kohli. His celebrity status was entirely shaped by his success in cricket because brands seek out ambassadors, who promise consistency and longevity and in Kohli, most corporates have found a winner.

Kohli has evolved as person, too. He is no longer the angry brat.-AP

Kohli is now seen as India’s batting fulcrum despite Dhoni’s belligerence in limited overs cricket and Cheteshwar Pujara’s solidity in Tests. It is a stature that he has acquired with consistent and effective batting feats that even drew praise from esteemed men like Sir Viv Richards and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

As a batsman, Kohli has enhanced his skills. As a person, he has begun to temper his white-line fever and off the field, he is one of the best to listen to at press conferences. His statements are forthright and well thought out. His increasing awareness of being a cog in India’s great batting tradition has also held him in good stead.

That perspective was revealed when he chaired Tendulkar on his shoulders at the Wankhede Stadium after India won the World Cup in Mumbai in 2011 or his heart-felt birthday greeting to Rahul Dravid via Twitter: “Happy birthday to the most compact, gutsy, focused, determined and dedicated batsman of the modern era. Wish you the best Rahul bhai.”

Belonging to an age-group that can at times be caught up with ear-phones and an ‘I, me, myself’ attitude, Kohli has bucked the trend and is clued into the world. Be it expressing condolence over Nelson Mandela’s demise in South Africa or talking about his approach to cricket at multiple media interactions, Kohli has revealed a depth that perhaps has helped him emerge as India’s biggest batting hope ever since the earlier blue-chip middle-order bowed out.

Peer at Kohli’s numbers in the last six months and what greets statisticians, cricket-lovers and television pundits is his excellence in the game’s three versions. Recently he scored 54 and an unbeaten 36, against West Indies and Pakistan respectively, in the ICC World Twenty20 that is in progress in Bangladesh. A month before that, he hammered a 136 against host Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. A week prior to that, he etched an unbeaten 105 against New Zealand in the third and final Test in Wellington. Cast your gaze further back and his 119 in the opening Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, springs forth.

No hurdle is too big from Kohli on the cricket field.-K.R. DEEPAK

These knocks throw light on a batsman, who is at home in whites and in coloured clothing besides coping with varying conditions — be it South Africa’s pitches that promise bounce and pace or be it Bangladesh’s surfaces that are in sync with sub-continental nuances of turgidity and spin. Kohli’s poise in Tests acquires an aggressive veneer in ODIs and then gains dollops of explosive energy in Twenty20s. In all these evolutionary leaps across formats, Kohli has ensured that his basics are right, his competitive instinct stays at its zenith and he is quick to iron out the flaws.

When he burst into the Indian ODI squad, fresh from his exploits with the national Under-19 side, Kohli sought to impose his will immediately in a contest and often paid the price with an over-ambitious clout against spinners in the middle overs. He tended to slice his lofted drive and though a vestige of that risk remains, he is much more in control of his shots and knows exactly when to down the shutters, when to steal the singles and when to coat his willow with kinetic energy.

That Kohli has leapt over Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh in India’s batting sweepstakes after Tendulkar, Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman moved on, tells a tale of a generational shift and most importantly throws the spotlight back on his mastery at the pitch. Ray Jennings, his former coach at Royal Challengers Bangalore, the IPL team that he leads now, often used to say: “Virat is the future and he is the future captain of India.” When Jennings made those statements, it was presumed to be a touch too early but Kohli has shown that at least as a batsman, he could be the beacon light across formats for India.

And as for becoming the nation’s first-choice captain, Kohli will have to wait. So far, he hasn’t revealed any urgency towards the hot-seat, a trait that distracted a few of his batting predecessors. That he doesn’t look out of sorts at the number four slot in Tests is itself a high tribute to his ability. The man he replaced at that position, Tendulkar, would himself approve of Kohli’s methods and in that India can rest easy.