Virat Kohli has suddenly activated the nitro boost. He’s racing past records, milestones and contemporary batsmen, and there’s no hint yet that the blur would end any time soon.
Over the past year or two, he would build an innings and only rarely show such out an out aggression from the word go in ODIs. But over the past few months, ever since he’s had the taste of captaincy, he’s actually attacked as soon as he has reached the crease.
Some of his shots in the just concluded series against Australia showed how eager he was to hit the ball, and how confident he felt while doing so.
Kohli the aggressor
He swatted a Xavier Doherty delivery, all hand speed and sheer power of the arms, and it landed way over the deep mid-wicket for a six. He only looked like sweeping it.
He charged down the ground against a Mitchell Johnson delivery in mid-140s and hit it on the up over the covers. That’s astonishing power and self-belief, and more than just good anticipation. And then again, he rocked back on his back-foot and deftly push a delivery from Doherty to third-man for four. The man could have played reverse hits and paddle sweeps at ease had they been natural strokes instead of manufactured ones.
The ‘proper’ batsman
That’s the beauty of Kohli. His shots have that natural touch to them; they are ‘proper’. Add to that his pace between the wickets and even if he’s not hitting you for fours and sixes then, there’s no respite because he’s converting singles into doubles at an alarming regularity.
The much-talked about aggression of Virat Kohli has been brilliantly channeled into his batting, and it has added to it rather than hamper it. Being in the zone for him secludes him from the plans and taunts of anyone outside his own mind.
When you are not in the zone you think about a lot of things; what the opposition is trying to do to you, what their plans are, what kind of field they are setting rather than having your own set plan. Being in the zone for me means being confident about my game and just having the ability to tackle any situation and have my plans confirmed in my head rather than thinking whether they are going to bounce me or are they trying to get me lbw; I just rather watch the ball and pre-plan, or I have plans to score to a particular bowler. So when you are in that zone, you think about your plans rather than focusing on what kind of bowling is going to be thrown at you.
That’s a 25-year-old talking about his game. The best thing about Kohli’s batting is that he doesn’t try too hard. That’s not to say there’s no hard work in his batting. But there’s no attacking batting only for the sake of attacking. He’s confident of his strokes and backs himself against any bowler, but there’s rarely any slog. Only proper technique.
“[Technique] is the main thing when you want to take on bowlers who’re bowling at 150kph”
Kohli’s success in ODIs is not based on big hits and rampant slogging. His batting has been very aggressive indeed, but it’s a delight to watch him bat for a purist.
In his own words, he’s “not a great fan of batting in the nets”, but what makes him charge down against a 150 kmph delivery or flick the Malinga yorkers for fours and sixes, is his belief in his ability to hit the ball where he wants. And that stems from the fact that he’s got a solid technique in place as the foundation of his batting.
His success in Tests is an evidence of his solid technique. That 75 in Perth and the century in Adelaide will always be considered career-changing knocks from Virat Kohli. He followed that with good scores against New Zealand, England and Australia.
But the most delightful part about Virat Kohli’s batting in Test cricket is that he’s ready to curb his aggression, delay that thought of being on the top of the game, and graft his way to big scores, like he did in Nagpur last year.
What next for Virat Kohli?
There are already comparisons with the great Sachin Tendulkar emerging everywhere around him. But being MS Dhoni‘s understudy, one can expect these praises and comments to not get to the head of the Indian vice-captain.
With the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (if selected) and Kohli in the form of their life, MS Dhoni’s side would want to wash away the memories of those 4-0 washouts handed to them over the past few years overseas.
His success/failure against West Indies notwithstanding, there’s a huge task at hand for Kohli ahead of him. 2010-2013 has been a golden period for him. But 2014 is all about tours overseas, as India travel to South Africa in late 2013, followed by New Zealand, England and Australia in its major tours. In between, there’s a T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.
In different formats, Kohli’s sweet run of form may or may not sustain, but it’s very important for India as well as the Indian vice-captain that he emerges from these tours a better batsman, for there’s much he has not yet faced to earn the title of the world’s best batsman.
Sachin Tendulkar made his name making runs not just in the sub-continent, but overseas in front of sometime doting, sometime hostile crowds, but on pitches where he adjusted and made runs come what may. Virat Kohli has shown his talent and his ability to stick to the basics even while on full throttle.
What he’ll need to best now, is the ability to stand tall when there’s no opening partnership to bank on, no invincible MS Dhoni at the other end, jibes from the crowd and players alike, the ball hitting his pads and body and escaping his willow. Then he has to endure, and find within himself that unending thirst to make more runs for his team. And then, he’ll be called the best batsman in the world.