An ode to Virat Kohli
A possessed man, gaze fixed, his brain processing things faster than you can is at one end. He can out-think you. He makes you wonder if you're in the right profession. And there you are at the other end, 22 yards away. You have your weapon, weighing 5.75 ounces. You are assessing ways to beat him. But he is a few steps ahead of you. As the bowler, the world feels sorry for you.
In India, cricket is not like any other sport. You must experience it to know it. This isn’t hyperbole. Some people do base their lives on the sport. And not many can handle the burden of carrying this nation’s hope and still perform.
Kohli’s love for the game started from a very young age. When students changed schools for better education, he changed cricket academies for better coaching. He gradually progressed through the ranks and started establishing himself at the domestic level. He became a regular in Delhi’s U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams.
Kohli's transformation from boy to man, though, occurred overnight. On December 18, 2006, Kohli (18) was part of the team playing for Delhi against Karnataka. But the unimaginable happened that night. His father would pass away. Cricket should have become secondary to his grief, but Kohli played on. He continued from his overnight score of 40*, scored 90 from 238 balls and helped save Delhi from defeat. All this on the day of his father’s funeral.
Saroj Kohli, Virat's mother said years later to The Cricket Monthly, "Virat changed a bit after that day. Overnight he became a much more matured person. He took every match seriously. He hated being on the bench. It's as if his life hinged totally on cricket after that day. Now, he looked like he was chasing his father's dream which was his own too."
Winning the U-19 World Cup for India was the pinnacle of all milestones in the teenage Kohli’s CV, which gave him an IPL contract with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Virat made his international debut against Sri Lanka in August 2008. It took him a while to be a regular in the side. He would often be used as a makeshift opener, or to replace an injured player, or as a 12th man. A few strings of good performances, helped by injuries and drop in form of few key players, enabled Kohli to nudge people’s attention and start noticing him.
Preponderance of his stellar performances at least in his initial years in the international circuit would come from ODIs. His hundred versus Bangladesh on the first day of 2011 WC, and a very significant contribution in the finals ensured India bagged the coveted trophy after 28 painful years.
He improved his game and fitness at an exponential rate. He would go on to master the art of chasing. He once mauled Lasith Malinga, scoring 24 runs in an over, before going on to script a famous victory for India at Hobart. Malinga has never been the same hence. Kohli has never been the same hence. A few hundreds here and there, artistic batting, unreal dedication, ruthless aggression all became Kohli’s identity. The metamorphosis into what he is today slowly surfaced.
If people had any doubts about Kohli’s test supremacy, he answered it to a great extent during the Australia Tour in 2014/15. The first test at Adelaide, was a not a normal test. Phillip Hughes, tragically passed away, doing what he loves, batting, days before the test. The entire sporting world was moved. Grown, hard men were crying. Cricket was looked at differently. It was not normal scenes at Adelaide. Kohli, however had a brilliant test series. A Mitchell Johnson bouncer hit his helmet. It didn’t do much damage to Kohli. But the same can’t be said for the Australians. It made the beast in him soar high. His motto in life is very simple- 'You scratch my back and I'll stab yours'. Some of his cover drives were a thing of beauty. The MCG and SCG tests were no different. He was indomitable.
He liked these situations. He liked these challenges. He liked these Australians.
What sets Kohli apart from others, is his ability to pace his innings immaculately and his prowess against both pace as well as spin. Not many can claim to have this gift. Even though he struggled in the English conditions, he made a great comeback in Australia and improved his away record. He has mastered the art of chasing in ODIs and T20s. His ‘Bradmanesque’ average of 99.04 in Indian triumphs is the highest among the batsmen to have played min 25 innings while chasing. 24 of his 39 ODI centuries have come while chasing. 21 out of those 24 matches, India was on the winning side. Clearly a match winner of the highest quality.
His form since 2015 has been legendary. WC 2015 Innings vs Pakistan was a testimony to that. His T20 WC was a lesson to all the grooming youngsters. A mind-boggling 973 runs under his belt, with 4 centuries helped Kohli cement his place as a modern-day great.
IPL-2016 was his playground. He owned the stage. He reached the zenith of his career. He took us with him. We danced when he won. We cried when he lost. We slept peacefully when he was working out strategies and ideas for next day’s game. Every tour hence has only further established his supremacy.
To perform is a player. To compare is a fan. Sachin vs Kohli comparisons feature often on social media, panel discussions etc. However, all these comparisons are for mere human beings like us. Sachin and Kohli are undeterred by it. They do their business and look for improvement in every way possible. That is why, we read articles about them. They have articles written about them. But if you ask me I’d say- Sachin Tendulkar is God, but Virat Kohli is better.
Life begins at 30 for a cricketer. He will have his fair share of ups and downs. Hopefully there are more ups than downs. His supreme fitness will be tested. His leadership qualities will be doubted. Injuries will take a toll on his form. But the guy is a phoenix. He laughs at adversaries. He revels in tough situations.
He is like a theater artist. He wants his audience. He does a lot of rehearsals. He writes his own script. And when you give him a stage to perform, you thank God for Virat Kohli!
The next few years are going to be intriguing. It is going to be quite a ride. Invest in him. The ROI is going to be huge and always bear in mind, what one of his fans on twitter posted, If you are ever sad just remember the earth is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as Virat Kohli did.