Virat Kohli — the cricketing idol of India’s young generation
Kohli is the new brand in Indian cricket: confident and fearless, though a bit impetuous at times.
Virat Kohli is, among other things, the fastest Indian to 5,000 ODI runs © Getty Images
Virat Kohli, born on November 5, 1988, is India’s best batsman in recent times. He is a modern cricketer, who adjusts to any format with ease. In this era, he has symbolised India’s cricketing ambitions after the retirements of some of the greats. At a young age, he has achieved quite a lot and has shown the hunger for more. Nishad Pai Vaidya profiles India’s mainstay.
On December 18, 2006, Delhi were in dire straits in their Ranji Trophy game against Karnataka at Feroz Shah Kotla. At the end of Day Two, Delhi were tottering at 103 for five up against an imposing 446. An 18-year-old prodigy remained unbeaten on 40, with the daunting task of pulling his team out of the muddle. The next day, the boy turned up, put his head down and fought for an innings of 90. But it wasn’t about the innings as much as the backdrop to it; his father passed away hours before the start of play. Putting his sorrow behind him, Virat Kohli was there for his team and attended his father’s funeral after he was dismissed. That day a future star showed his true mettle far away from the glitz and glamour of international cricket.
Eight years down the line, Kohli is a true modern superstar; a young man who has touched dizzying peaks and is hungry for more in the years ahead. He is a captain in the making, India’s best batsman, and a youth icon beyond the field of play. Overcoming that mountain of sorrow early in his career was proof of his character; everything after that may not have been as daunting. Here is a brief look at what he has achieved so far:
- He is the fastest Indian to 1,000, 3,000, 4,000, and 5,000 One-Day International (ODI) runs.
- At the age of 26, he already has 12 tons in successful chases in ODIs. Only Sachin Tendulkar is ahead with 14.
- He has the fastest ton for India in ODIs — coming off only 52 balls against Australia in Jaipur in 2013.
- He has a Test ton in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
- He has won the ICC World Cup, ICC Champions Trophy and the Asia Cup.
- He has been named Man of the Tournament in an ICC World T20.
- He was named the ICC ODI Player of the Year in 2012.
- He has won the Arjuna Award in 2013.
- He is the fastest to get to 20 ODI tons.
- He has scored five fifty-plus scores in a row in ODIs, not once but on two occasions.
For a man so young, these achievements are mind-boggling. Kohli is the new brand in Indian cricket. He is confident and fearless, though a bit impetuous at times. But beneath that exterior, there is a fire that burns within where a champion mind resides. Many say Sachin Tendulkar was the symbol of a growing India, waiting to take on the world. Kohli symbolises a generation that is confident of its position on the global platform.
Born on November 5, 1988 to Saroj and Prem in Delhi, Kohli took to cricket at a young age. In 1996-97, coach Rajkumar Sharma spotted the eight-year old amongst 200 kids who appeared at his camp. Speaking to CricketCountry, Rajkumar said, “Within a week, Virat’s uninhibited enthusiasm and towering talent won me over. I was completely convinced that he’s a special talent. He was mighty inquisitive and would ask me a deluge of questions. His eagerness to learn the nuances of every aspect of the game impressed me thoroughly.”
In 2002, Kohli was picked for the Delhi under-15s. In his third game, he scored 70 against Haryana under-19s. It was during his second season for Delhi under-15s that he made a mark. In five innings, he amassed 390 runs with two centuries. The next year, in 2004-05, he graduated to the under-17s and smashed 251 not out against Himachal Pradesh and 179 against Jammu and Kashmir. In 2005-06, he hit three tons for Delhi under-17s. The hunger was evident — two of those tons were doubles. That won him a spot in the India under-19 side for the tour to England in 2006 — the first time he put himself on the national radar. And he did not disappoint! On that tour to England, he scored four fifties and two tons. One of those centuries came against an attack comprising of Steven Finn and Adil Rashid, future England internationals. Kohli cemented his spot in the India under-19 side with more encouraging performances against Pakistan.
In November 2006, Kohli was called up to the Delhi side and made his Ranju Trophy debut against Tamil Nadu. It was during his third game that tragedy struck and he dished out that gutsy 90. That season, Kohli averaged 36.71, with his innings against Tamil Nadu being his only fifty. Kohli hasn’t been a regular in domestic cricket since international commitments have kept him away, but he has been an authoritative batsman when he has played. From 2007-08 to 2010-11, Kohli has averaged over 50 in all the seasons until he booked a permanent place in the Indian team.
Under-19 success and international call-up
Following a successful domestic season with Delhi in 2007-08, Kohli was asked to lead India at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. It had been eight years since Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif had led India to glory in the tournament. The following teams had come agonisingly close. In 2006, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and co. were blown away in the final by arch-rivals Pakistan. Kohli had his task cut out, more so because this tournament was also considered a passage-way to higher honours.
Under Kohli’s leadership, India under-19 emerged champions. Kohli himself led from the front and was amongst the leading run-scorers in the tournament. He cracked a ton in the game against West Indies under-19s. Kieran Powell, the West Indies under-19 opener and Kohli’s future opponent in international cricket, said in an interview, “I remember playing in the match against India. When Virat Kohli went on to get a century against the West Indies and we all knew during that match that he would one day play for India.”
In a tense final against South Africa under-19, Kohli’s boys emerged victorious. Even as the last ball was about to be bowled, Kohli asked his boys to calm down and get the job done. It was a sign of sound temperament. However, as Kohli celebrated the success with his boys, that exuberant shade of his was evident. Over the years, he has been criticised for such exhibitions. Even as he was picked for the Royal Challengers Bangalore for the maiden season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), that touch remained.
Despite having a tough time during the IPL 2008, Kohli was ushered into international cricket in August that year. With India missing Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar during the ODIs in Sri Lanka, the 19-year-old, Kohli was called up for the series. Asked to open the batting with his statemate Gautam Gambhir, he hit his maiden fifty in only his fourth game. It was a satisfying initiation in international cricket, but there was some work to be done. With the seniors back, Kohli had to bide his time away from the senior side.
Kohli had another good domestic season, scoring 613 runs in 10 matches at an average of 55.72. He scored a century against the touring Australians, an attack that contained Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clarke and Peter Siddle.
International comeback and World Cup 2011
Virat Kohli was part of the squad the won the 2011 World Cup © Getty Images
Kohli truly announced himself in international cricket in late 2009. Picked for the ICC Champions Trophy 2009, in place of an injured Yuvraj, he scored 79 not out in India’s only victory in the tournament. That was also his first Man of the Match award in international cricket. Then came the first big knock: Chasing 316 against Sri Lanka under lights at Eden Gardens, India lost Sehwag and Tendulkar early. In combination with Gambhir, Kohli put the chase on course and smashed an impressive 107. Absorbing all the pressure, he laid the platform and India overhauled the target with ease.
Over the next year, Kohli established himself in the side. There were quite a few knocks that showed his true class. Against Australia in 2010, he scored another ton at Visakhapatnam in a pressure situation. That was followed by a successful series against New Zealand, where he hit a century in the first game. Thus, he had shot ahead into the limelight and booked his spot in the World Cup.
Though Kohli’s stats aren’t very impressive in the 2011 World Cup, he did play some crucial innings. He started off with a brisk century in the first match against Bangladesh, played a crucial cameo against Ireland and made a fifty against West Indies. However, his most telling contribution came in the final. Though his 34 wasn’t high on magnitude, it was perhaps as crucial as some of the other knocks in that game. Coming in at 31 for two in pursuit of 275, Kohli entered the Wankhede Stadium in a cauldron of pressure. Gradually, he resurrected the innings with Gambhir and put India on the path to history. That innings is often forgotten behind the MS Dhoni assault and the Gambhir master class, but it will remain one of his most memorable knocks.
However, it was after India's World Cup victory that Kohli made a statement! When asked about ferrying Tendulkar around the ground, Kohli replied, “He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It was time we carried him on our shoulders!” It is somewhat ironic that Kohli has truly carried the burden left by Tendulkar after that tournament.
Test cap and international stardom
Kohli was handed the Test cap on the tour to the West Indies in 2011, when Tendulkar opted out. It was a rude awakening after world glory. The West Indies pacemen exploited certain weaknesses and didn’t let him flourish in the white flannels.
Despite those failures, Kohli continued to stamp his authority in ODIs. At No. 3, he became India’s mainstay and was soon billed as the best limited-overs batsman in the world. Indian cricket had walked into a difficult phase after the World Cup. They were humiliated overseas and age got the better of some of the illustrious seniors. Kohli was ushered in for the Tests in Australia and his career took a turn for the better.
On a fast wicket at Perth, Kohli first batted sensibly for a hard-fought 75. Then at Adelaide, he fought the chirping Aussies, and dished out some of his own en route to his maiden Test ton. The celebrations were typical Virat-like. He punched the air and screamed profanities at no one in particular. In that 0-4 loss, Kohli was one of the few positives and finished as India’s leading run-scorer.
As every batsman plays that one innings that goes on to define his career, so too did Kohli —against Sri Lanka at Hobart in February 2012. To have a chance to qualify for the tri-series final, India had to chase 321 inside 40 overs. Kohli was at his dominant best, thrashing 133 in 86 balls. It was not the runs that defined the innings, but the way he tore apart Lasith Malinga, the most dangerous limited-overs bowler in the world. The Sri Lankan slinger tried everything; toe-crushers, varying line, length and pace. Nothing worked. Kohli flicked, drove and lofted — smashing him for 24 in an over. India achieved the target with overs to spare and Kohli had stepped into a new phase as an international batsman.
A few weeks later, the baton passed hands in ODIs. During Tendulkar’s last ODI (it wasn’t known then) against Pakistan at the Asia Cup, India were chasing 330. Kohli walked out in the first over and asserted his dominance. Though Tendulkar was dismissed for 54, Kohli’s 183 took India to victory and made it look like a cinch. When compared to the mauling at Hobart, this was slightly mellow, but full of class. Kohli brought new shots into his repertoire. He flicked length deliveries with the power of his wrists and placed them over mid-wicket. He also brought in a lofted shot with that typical pause in play.
Those knocks put Kohli on a pedestal, something he has maintained ever since. There have been more knocks that have only enhanced his stature. Apart from the three Test tons at home, he has managed centuries in South Africa and New Zealand. Also, India chased down two 350-plus totals in the same series against Australia in 2013. On both occasions, Kohli smashed tons. The first one was a blinder: He got his century off 52 balls. Kohl redefined batting in one-day cricket; no total was safe. At No. 3, he became the enforcer and dominated his craft on the opposition. So far, Kohli has scored five tons in successful 300-plus run-chases. The first time his ton failed to clinch a win in a run-chase was in 2014.
But there always remained doubts despite those performances. Some said he was too aggressive. There were times when he unnecessarily hurled expletives. There was a video that went viral on social media, which showed him arguing with fans after an IPL game. In 2011, he was reprimanded by the officials after he showed dissent at being given out during an ODI. In 2012, he was caught showing the forbidden finger to the crowd in Sydney. In 2013, he was involved in a heated altercation with former teammate Gambhir during an IPL game and was also heckled at Wankhede. It was not a good resume for a man touted as the next leader after Dhoni.
Despite those episodes, the administration has put its faith behind him. In 2011, he was the only player retained by the Royal Challengers Bangalore — this despite the fact that he hadn’t been the best player in T20 cricket at that point. In 2012, he was appointed vice-captain of the Indian ODI team ahead of seniors Gambhir and Sehwag. Kohli has remained in that role since and is certain to take over once Dhoni decides to hang up his boots.
The young senior and the future
Kohli has already led India in a few ODIs and has done reasonably well. The responsibility hasn’t affected his batting as he has smashed three tons in 13 games as skipper. Starting off at the tri-series in the Caribbean in 2013, he was able to script a recovery after India lost their first two games. India managed to qualify for the final as Dhoni returned to lead. In Zimbabwe in 2013, Kohli finished the job with ease as India won 5-0. But in the Asia Cup in 2014, Kohli was tested and India knew that they had to give him time to flourish into a leader.
Challenges are a part and parcel of sport, and the best overcome it. Kohli did that in the past with some seemingly insurmountable odds in sight. He is a big match player. The knock in the 2011 World Cup final is forgotten, so is a crucial cameo he essayed during the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 final. He has also evolved into a good T20 batsman, playing by the copybook, yet still managing to dominate attacks. During the ICC World T20 2014 in Bangladesh, Kohli finished as the Man of the Tournament. In the semi-final and the final, he scored runs at ease. Picking the single, smashing the boundaries, he rarely allowed the bowlers into the game. Nevertheless, it was yet another account of his character and temperament. The “brash” young-kid had matured into a dependable batsman. The aggression was toned down but the fire burned within.
It is that fire that will help Kohli overcome some of his recent challenges. James Anderson brutally exposed his flaw outside the off-stump during India's tour of England in 2014. In the five Tests, Kohli mustered a meagre 135 runs. It was quite surprising as it came from a man who nearly scored two tons in one Test against South Africa in Johannesburg barely a year before. After the tour, Kohli was in the nets, taking advice from Tendulkar and some of the other coaches. The results will only be clear in the future.
Kohli turns 26 as India plan for the tour to Australia and the ICC World Cup 2015. For those assignments and beyond, he remains India’s biggest hope. Despite his recent struggles in Test cricket, there is no doubt about his calibre and the fact that he has it to overcome those issues. In his book At Close of Play, Ricky Ponting wrote, “He has got presence and is one of those new breed of Indian players who are supremely confident and he has the game to back it up… I think in two or three years his name will be up there as one of the best in Test match cricket.” Coming from Ponting, it is huge praise!
Ray Jennings, the former Bangalore coach, summed it up in an interview with CricketCountry, “Kohli, to me, is not a normal Indian guy. His character is not Indian-type. He has grown up as a very aggressive cricketer. That’s the way he plays his sport. He is more aggressive than a lot of the Indian players. The way he thinks is aggressive, the way he bats is aggressive. He is very much of a fighter on the field, which is more like an Australian or South African culture. From a very early age, he had that culture as he was moulded as that type of a person, as a leader right from the 2007-08 in the Under-19 setup. He definitely has that aggression about him, in the way he thinks and the way he plays.”
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)