Standing tall amidst the ruins

During the tour of the West Indies last year, Kohli did concede that he knew of the chatter in the cricketing circles of his nocturnal activities. He looked back at his own career and was determined to change people's perception of him. The talent in him was never in question; only the attitude was. But he has, of late, let his bat do all the talking, writes S. Dinakar.

You can see the desire in Virat Kohli, that hunger to excel in all formats of the game. He's passionate about cricket and is willing to walk the hard yards.

The transformation in the young man — Kohli is still only 23 — has been remarkable. There was this phase — during the first two seasons of the IPL — when Kohli appeared to be distracted by the glamour, so much so that it seemed to adversely impact various aspects of his game.

During the tour of the West Indies last year, Kohli did concede that he knew of the chatter in the cricketing circles of his nocturnal activities. He looked back at his own career and was determined to change people's perception of him.

The talent in him was never in question; only the attitude was. He is still prone to giving vent to his feelings, whether he is unconvinced about an umpiring verdict or reacting to taunts from the crowd. How he manages to rein in his feelings to cope with umpiring howlers or hostile spectators will mark the next stage of his evolvement as a cricketer. Till now, he has been rather fortunate to be let off lightly for his transgressions.

After an uneasy beginning, he has made rapid strides as a batsman. His fighting 77 on a lively surface at the WACA in the India-Sri Lanka game in the Commonwealth Bank ODI series was an example of how much he has matured. Battling cramps and falling victim to a direct hit from mid-on from Lasith Malinga, Kohli breathed defiance even as wickets fell at the other end.

He has worked on his chinks. Kohli was harried by fast bowler Fidel Edwards in particular during India's tour of the West Indies last year. He found it hard to keep slinger Edwards' bouncers down and tended to get opened up.

That was a series where Kohli was unable to get out of the way or essay the authoritative pull shot. The youngster from Delhi, unable to negotiate deliveries targeting his rib-cage was popping up catches at silly point or short-leg. So much so that when Kohli took guard and Edwards rushed in, the West Indies journalists in the press box always had something to say and laugh about.

Kohli played all three Tests — the team management retained its faith on him — but averaged just 15.20. He boarded the flight back dejected. He had to start all over again. And he spent countless hours honing his skills. The emphasis was on getting into a more side-on position as the ball was bounced into him.

When the selectors picked him over Rohit Sharma in the eleven for the third and final Test against the West Indies in Mumbai, Kohli was handed a Test lifeline.

He made an impression, albeit on sub-continental tracks, with knocks of 52 and 63 at the Wankhede Stadium. Kohli was in the hunt again. But then, he endured an ordinary time in the first two Tests Down Under and the knives were out for him again. Kohli's temperament was under scrutiny. Oozing determination, Kohli managed to turn things around on a quick WACA pitch in the third Test. His efforts of 44 and 75 were the innings of a batsman growing in confidence. Kohli was getting solidly behind the line. He coped well with the short-pitched stuff from the Australian quick bowlers. Crucially, he was keeping the ball down from a side-on position.

He put a price on his wicket even as the big names kept departing from the other end. Kohli was well organised with his methods at the crease, saw through probing spells and waited for the bowlers to commit mistakes.

In the fourth Test, Kohli broke through a barrier. His fighting 116 in the Indian first innings at Adelaide, showcased his innings-building skills. The right-hander's footwork, both in offence and defence, caught the eye.

He also showed mental strength, he was not intimidated by the Australian pace and lift. India lost by a mile but the spunky Kohli had cemented his place in the eleven. Kohli finished the Test series with an average of 37.50, having notched up 300 runs. In the context of India's performance in the series, Kohli's display stood out.

His overall Test figures of 491 runs from eight matches at 32.73 could improve in the days ahead. Kohli is making up lost ground. In the ODIs, he is a clever batsman who can work the ball into the open spaces, is quick on the turn and runs hard between wickets and can deliver the occasional big blows. Vitally, he enjoys responsibility.

Kohli's record and consistency in ODI cricket is formidable. This feisty batsman brings stability to the Indian innings. To top it all Kohli is a livewire on the field with the knack of hitting the stumps.

He, surely, is one for the future.