A loose cannon trying to become a sharpshooter!

What makes Virat Kohli tick is the palpable and total commitment to the task and team. Popular appeal and money earnings, after all, are only byproducts and incumbent on how a player fares in his primary vocation.

Virat Kohli’s bristling aggression has often met with rebuke, some even arguing that it demeans the game.   -  AFP

If there were a popularity poll in the country today, Virat Kohli would win hands down, ahead of any film star, politician, businessman, or another sportsperson.

He is a phenomenon on social media, followed, forwarded and quoted by millions. His manicured beard, fancy hair-cuts, funky and formal clothes he wears and fashion products he promotes make him a style icon across the length and breadth of the country, language and local cultures no constraints.

This appeal is more tangibly captured in the blizzard of advertisements that Kohli features in currently, which makes him virtually omniscient. Brands chase him like hounds, which have seen his annual earnings in the list of top global sportspersons.

Why, he can even endorse an apparel range that spells wrong wrongly and yet be considered right!

Cricket has always been an obsession in India but few players have reached such dizzying heights of adulation among fans and aficionados alike. Superstardom comes only to a few, and this has to do as much with performance as chemistry.

In the last half century-odd, one can think of only Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and M. S. Dhoni who have had the country in so much thrall.

Pataudi’s charm lay in his royal lineage, suave persona, astute captaincy and the fact that he played with a severe handicap that would have stymied anybody else even at junior, leave aside international level.

Gavaskar infused the much missing ‘steel’ into Indian cricket and lifted the pride of the country with his determined batting of such technical certitude that he is rated as perhaps among the three best openers of all time.

Kapil Dev’s wondrous all-round skills evoked awe and unfettered joy among fans, won matches for the country, including the path-breaking 1983 World Cup and ignited a passion for fast bowling the effect of which is being truly felt now.

Tendulkar rose from a precocious teenager into a fully-loaded batting genius, and the romantic journey that this entailed made him the heartbeat of the nation, apart from bringing most batting records to India.

Dhoni, coming from the boondocks of cricket, unorthodox, unflappable and often mysterious in his ways, became an inspiration for hinterland India, unlocking its vast potential — and not just in cricket.

How has Kohli fired the imagination of cricket lovers, not just in India but all over the cricket universe ?

He is not straitlaced, doesn’t strive to be politically correct. Rather, he is ‘in your face’, with rough edges and a prickly sense of righteousness that has often seen him on the wrong side of critics.

What makes him tick is the palpable and total commitment to the task and team. Popular appeal and money earnings, after all are only byproducts and incumbent on how a player fares in his primary vocation.

The consistency with which Kohli has scored runs and centuries and also the way he has played are obviously a key factor. His boundless zest, passion for the game and intense ambition to win find resonance in New India, as some who study the socio-psycho dynamics of a country suggest.

Not that this has always found favour with critics. Kohli’s bristling aggression has often met with rebuke, some even arguing that it demeans the game. Admittedly his behaviour at times has been over the top where some restraint was advisable.

He has argued with opponents, unnecessarily at times, used the power vested in him to get the venerated Anil Kumble as chief coach in an unseemly controversy, brusquely admonished a fan by asking him to ‘go to another country’ if he did not support India (for which he showed contrition immediately), none of which have added lustre to his career.

But it must also be said that he has never transcended the limits implicit in cricket, never got into a physical altercation as have some stellar players in the past, never cheated, as did some current major domos.

The flip side to this is how much of his overt intensity has helped Kohli. As evidenced over the years, this has helped him grow rapidly to becoming the best batsman of his era across formats — as he has internalised most of the aggression against himself than seen outside.

Kohli teaches Cheteshwar Pujara to dance after India’s Test series win in Australia. Pujara outscored Kohli in the series, but the Indian captain subdued his own ego to partner the Saurashtra batsman in long, obdurate partnerships that stymied the Australian bowlers.   -  AP

 

He is driven to excel and willing to push himself to the limit in every way for achieving success. The tougher the circumstances, the higher he has been able to lift his game. Where others might cave in under pressure, he revels. Fighting odds seems to be a natural fit to his temperament.

The first dramatic change in his career came after the 2014 series in England where he flopped badly, scoring just 135 runs in 10 innings. Smarting from that setback, Kohli worked to not only amend his technique to succeed outside the sub-continent, but completely altered his lifestyle to become the best in the world.

He changed his diet to keep the flab out completely, putting a premium on energy. His fitness regimen acquired a more rigorous dimension to make him more fleet-footed, with boundless stamina and sharper reflexes.

This entailed several sacrifices, but Kohli was willing to make these because he was uncompromising in his ambition to be the best. He was also quick on the uptake, learning swiftly from his mistakes, keeping an ear open for sound advice from any quarter, willing to take risks, being desperate to win every bout, technical and psychological, with opponents.

From the tour of Australia in 2014-15, Kohli hasn’t looked back, swallowing records and milestones with the greed of Pacman, feeding on his successes to even get better. However, whether such a maniacal desire to become the best was working to the advantage of his team was the moot question that arose in the first couple of years after he took over as captain.

Teams are made of disparate individuals, with their own understanding of the game and Emotional Quotient. Were some players suffering because of Kohli’s domineering presence, not to mention his overpowering performances?

Mike Brearley, former England captain — a self-confessed admirer — contended that Kohli needed somebody within the system to question his strong self-belief, which could otherwise easily make him dogmatic and insensitive to others.

Kohli has changed his diet to keep the flab out completely, putting a premium on energy.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

From one of the shrewdest brains in the game who also happens to be a practising clinical psychologist, this was a fascinating take on understanding dressing room dynamics. Interestingly, the answer to that seems to be coming from the Indian captain himself.

In the past 12 months, particularly, there’s been a sublime but significant transformation in Kohli. For most of the decade that he’s been in international cricket, the most telling expression of his cricketing personality was a middle finger that he was prone to brandish at the slightest opportunity, provoked or not. Now, it’s the middle of the bat.

Beginning with the series against South Africa, his batsmanship has soared. In 14 Tests including the series against Australia, he scored 1345 runs, the most by anybody — and in a year dominated by bowlers. More importantly, 1161 of these runs came outside the sub-continent — in South Africa, England and Australia.

The quantity of runs has been bountiful as is evident, but perhaps even more pertinent has been their quality: on daunting pitches and testing conditions and situations. In South Africa and England, he was virtually putting on a one-man show, with the rest of the batting struggling badly.

He may not have scored as many runs in the Test series against Australia, upstaged as he was by the resolute and gritty Cheteshwar Pujara who hit a purple patch, but that did not diminish Kohli’s stature a whit. His 25th Test century at Perth was a classic.

More crucial was how he adapted to the demands of the situation. Otherwise a dasher, always eager to take the fight to the bowlers, he subdued his own ego to partner Pujara in long, obdurate partnerships that stymied the Australian bowlers, and ensure that his team wins.

As India’s ambassador for the game, Kohli is welcomed by one and all, including top-flight sportspersons. Here Kohli meets the legendary Roger Federer at the Australian Open.   -  Getty Images

 

This hints of a mellowing down of Kohli from a perennial firebrand into a thoughtful leader who sees the purpose of winning matches and series with controlled aggression as larger than winning dubious eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations, and getting every player in the team to perform at the optimum as his duty.

More importantly, perhaps even seeing himself as a man of destiny for Indian cricket, and a statesman for the game, if his pronouncements on retaining the supremacy of Test cricket are any indication.

As the game’s current lodestar, this is a responsibility that beckons as he enters the second half of his career and — along with the mountains of runs and centuries — could define the overall legacy he leaves behind.