By Prakash Govindasreenivasan
The year that went by was an agonising year for Indian cricket. A humiliating series defeat in Australia was followed by the retirement of two stalwarts, while a third struggled in his quest for lost form, leaving the side in limbo. The team was then slapped right across the face by reality when England travelled to India and ran all over them in conditions better suited to the home side. In all this gloom and disappointment, there have been a few reasons to celebrate and cheer. The most important one has been the growth of Virat Kohli.
When Kohli entered the international stage in 2008, many doubted his ability to be a part of the future of the Indian side, pointing towards his lack of temperament. He was overtly aggressive and often in the opponent’s face. The way he led the Under-19 Indian team to a World Cup win ensured that there was talent, yet the attitude that came along did not make him look like a champion. However, what he did in 2012 changed the perspective of an entire nation.
Kohli’s transformation from a brash and abrasive boy to a man with unending passion for his country has been phenomenal. He scored five centuries and two half-century to become the third highest run-getter in the calendar year, behind Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Tilakaratne Dilshan.
However, it wasn’t about the numbers as much as it was about the manner in which he scored them. His first stroke of brilliance came in India’s last match Down Under. It was against Sri Lanka at Hobart where Indian skipper MS Dhoni won the toss and elected to field. Dilshan tortured the Indian bowlers with a knock of 160, setting a target of 322. With the top three batsmen sent back early, there was very little hope for India, but Kohli played a magnificent knock to win the game with as many as 80 balls to spare. He spanked the Lankan bowlers, Lasith Malinga in particular, who went for 96 runs in less than eight overs. His innings of 133 was laced with 16 fours and two sixes and took just 86 deliveries. He followed this up with a century in the Asia Cup against the same opponents.
He went through his litmus test in a do-or-die match against Pakistan in the same tournament. Chasing 330, Kohli found himself taking guard in the first over, after Gautam Gambhir was dismissed off the second delivery of the innings. He shared a 100-plus partnership with Sachin Tendulkar before the latter was sent back to the pavilion in the 20th over. The ones who switched off their TV sets at this juncture, missed an innings of a lifetime. Tendulkar’s wicket gave Pakistan the momentum but Kohli wasn’t done yet. He showed nerves of steel as he carved an innings like never before. The glorious stroke play with a hint of urgency to keep up with the asking rate culminated into one of the best knocks of the year. He scored 183 off just 148, his career best in ODIs, as India went past the Pakistan total with two overs to spare.
In Kohli, one could see a 24-year old man wanting to win so badly that he was ready to take the challenge upon himself. His unparalleled commitment and unmatched desire to win has put him alongside some of the greats of the game.
In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar who recently announced his retirement from the limited-overs format of the game, Kohli will be looked at as the quintessential cog of the batting line-up as the team prepares to defend its World Cup crown in 2015.
The team is set to play a lot of limited-over cricket this year before the crucial tour to South Africa, which might see Kohli at the helm. He hasn’t had the most ideal start to 2013, but a good series against England starting on Friday could set the tone for what could be the most crucial year for him.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)