By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It has been a bumpy ride for India since the 2011 World Cup triumph, but Virat Kohli phenomenal exploits present hope for a better morrow. As India aim to put behind the ignominy of the previous season, Kohli has kick-started the new campaign in fine fashion – carrying on from where he left off a few months ago. A lot has been said and written about his precocious talent, but his numbers in the last 10 One-Day Internationals (ODI) leave cricket aficionados speechless.
When Kohli burst on to the scene, the general impression was that here was a brash youngster who let emotions take control of him more often than not. All the obvious talent and promise was marred by displays of anger. Luckily for Indian cricket, he calmed down and focused on his biggest asset – batting. It has been a remarkable journey – one where Kohli has consistently raised the bar.
Even until a few months ago, there were occasions where Kohli’s over-aggressive side came to the fore. When compared to his early days, these are few and far in between and had come as a result of provocation. He still has a few lessons to learn from Sachin Tendulkar – a man who would have faced hundreds of unruly people hurling verbal volleys, but not once have we heard of him losing his cool. On getting to the three figure mark, Kohli has often celebrated it with rage that is not keeping with the spirit of the gentleman’s game. However, during the ongoing tour to Sri Lanka, one can sense a marked change in his demeanour and approach.
The two centuries Kohli has scored during the series have been celebrated with an expression of genuine delight; the helmet came off, the bat went up in the air and a smile reflecting fulfillment. This was in sharp contrast to the Kohli who earlier celebrated his feats with arrogance and anger and which portrayed him as anything but humble in a moment of glory. Former players have often said that a celebration has to be spontaneous and genuine – one that marks a personal triumph against odds.
What this tells us is that Kohli is gradually maturing into a level-headed cricketer who would let his bat do all the talking. He has also carried himself with maturity at post-match interviews. The vice-captaincy has rubbed off well as he not only has to be accountable for his actions, but also his team. As a budding leader, he has to set the mark on good behaviour. The focus is right.
In the third ODI, India chased down a big score due Gautam Gambhir’s fantastic hundred and Suresh Raina’s brilliant finishing touch. Kohli was involved in a stable partnership with Gambhir, but couldn’t get going. While Gambhir kept ticking the scoreboard, Kohli struggled to maintain pace and his strike-rate suffered. Considering his purple patch, it was a huge surprise that he required 65 deliveries for his 38 runs. As he mentioned at the post-match presentation after the fourth ODI, that performance made him introspect and pick his mistakes.
The fact that a rare, sub-standard performance in the midst of a prolific run bothered him is a sign of a true champion. Sometimes, a sportsman may tend to ignore a small failure, but champions have this unwavering commitment towards sustained success. They leave no stone unturned to ensure a 100% effort every single time. Coming into the game at the back of that performance, Kohli was out to make amends and he did it in some style. The hundred erased memories of the previous outing for him and also helped India seal the series with a game to go.
The other great thing about Kohli is that he doesn’t go too far ahead of himself. Early on he gives the bowlers respect and gradually makes his upward ascent. During the initial phases of his knocks, he doesn’t try too many things and plays the ball on its merit. Through all that, he manages to stroke boundaries off a number of classy strokes. Once he gets into his zone after spending time in the middle, he unleashes an array of aggressive strokes. The flicks through the leg side and the cover drives are hit with dominance and a touch of class.
A striking feature of Kohli’s recent outings has been the way he has dealt with Lasith Malinga – the world’s most dangerous limited-overs bowlers. The awkward angle at which the ball is delivered has caused a number of problems to batsmen from around the globe. The yorkers have been absolutely lethal as they threaten to uproot the stumps or give the batsman a bruised toe. Kohli’s assault on the slinger at Hobart earlier this year has probably shifted the balance towards to the Indian. It would have certainly left some psychological scars on Malinga as he hasn’t been able to settle while bowling to Kohli.
While Kohli continues to move from strength to strength in one-day cricket, it is his Test career that will garner a lot of interest. The Test hundred in Australia came as a welcome development in the wake of the struggles of the ageing old guard. In the months to come, he will get a number of opportunities to build on that note. It wouldn’t be an easy ride though as the classical format would test every inch of his ability. A similar prolific run in Test cricket is something the whole of India would be hoping for.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)