How Virat Kohli conquered his English demons
(Date- August 2nd 2018, Venue- Edgbaston, 1st Test, Day 2
India placed precariously at 54-2 in first innings and in walks Virat Kohli...)
As Kohli took his stance and awaited a daunting Anderson dart at him, an air of tension gripped the cricketing world. The fans watched with great anticipation to find out the answer to a question that had haunted them for about four years. What followed, might go down as one of the defining moments in witnessing the rise of an all-time batting colossus.....
With thousands of spectators at the edge of their seats and millions of eyeballs glued to the TV sets all across the globe, a battle of immense substance brew amidst the lush green covers of Edgbaston.
At the fall of KL Rahul walked out a seemingly resolute Virat Kohli to take guard against a prowling seam attack that left him with nightmares four years ago. A seam attack that had pace-friendly conditions and a moving duke's ball at its disposal to make the Indian skipper's life miserable at the crease. Leading the pace predators was the wily James Anderson, who had posed as one of Kohli's greatest hurdles. The veteran bowler gave the then-26-year-old Kohli plenty to worry as he exposed a grey area in the batsman's, otherwise, flawless batsmanship.
"Edged...and gone...!!" were the most common words one would routinely hear the commentators whoop a few moments after Virat Kohli came into bat during the Test series between the two nations back in 2014. Relatively inexperienced in the English conditions, the Delhi lad fell prey to some quality swing bowling and had uncovered a flaw or two in his batting technique. The man looked all out of sorts and managed to totter to a sorry average of 13.50 in his 10 innings.
With India accounting for a humiliating defeat in the series, Kohli was cited as one of the prime reason's for the team's failure and was thrown open to the savagery of the cynics and internet trolls. Worse even, many critics, including a few greats of the game, questioned his place in the longer format and suggested axing him for the upcoming tours.
However, as all great sportsmen keep proving their worth time and again, Virat Kohli too had something special to show in the coming few months...
As is the case in any other epic story in the history of the sport, Virat Kohli reached the cusp of resurrection after returning to India. With the England tour's ordeal at the back of his mind, Kohli, unlike a meek nobody, vowed to get better at his game. He got back to the basics and focussed hard on reinventing his skill with each passing day. From working closely with his mentors to spending hours together in the nets, the man had left no stone unturned in taking his batting to a notch higher.
After West Indies abandoned its participation in the Test series in 2014, a bigger test beckoned Kohli, this time from Down Under. The fiery cricketer did just not have to prove his tenacity but also had to handle the additional responsibility of leading his team against a formidable opposition. India's poor record in Australia and the mind-games prior to the series had set things up perfectly for a riveting showdown and what ensued was, as they say, history.
Virat Kohli toppled expectations and battered the Aussie bowlers in a series that was truly cherishable for him on a personal front. The Delhi dynamite amassed as many as 639 runs in the 5-match series and surpassed Rahul Dravid to stand as the highest Indian run scorer in a series in Australia.
The following three and half years witnessed Kohli grow from strength to strength. Scoring runs in series after series and thumping opposition after opposition, India's new captain unfolded into a modern-day batting great. The team had found an all-new leader who led by example and inspired others to field nothing less than their best.
As days ticked along, a taunting challenge that seemed far away in 2014, approached stealthily. India got busy conquering different formats of the game and in due course, arrived the time to board its flight to England- a place that held bitter experiences to many players on their previous tour four years ago.
Cut through an entertaining month and after the fierce competition in the shorter formats, the focus shifted to Test cricket. While a few perceived it as a mere India vs England Test series, for many, it spelt Virat Kohli vs England. This was it, the haunting memories, infinite questions, limitless trolls and one stage to dispell them all. One good inning is what Kohli needed to prove why he is rated so highly by the experts.
More than anything else, the challenge came as a test of Kohli's character more than anything else. "Would he be able to surpass his ego? Will he overcome James Anderson? What could be his possible approach on English pitches? Has he learnt from his past mistakes?" were some of the innumerable questions that were asked ahead of the series. And as it happens in a riveting Bollywood masala, Kohli focussed on what he does best and let his bat give out one sound answer to all. An answer that resonated so strongly with his belief in himself that it boasts a potential to banish all his demons over the past four years.
The 29-year-old, barring a few blemishes, looked compact at the crease and went on to score a much-awaited Test ton on the English soil. The Indian skipper pummeled a momentous 149 and stood as a gleaming testimony to all the requisite attributes of great batsmanship-grit, patience, determination, application, and the most important of all, the willingness to keep his ego aside for the team's cause. And if his celebration after reaching the hundred was anything to go by, it could easily be understood how much it meant to him, how much it meant to his family, and above all, how much it meant to Indian cricket.
While a hundred right at the start of the Test series does indicate brighter prospects for the coming games, it is certainly not a giveaway and Kohli would be aware of that. The man helms India's hopes of shining overseas in the coming many years and his form would continue to remain a key factor.
On a personal frontier too, the England series comes at a crucial stage to him as he barges ahead in his quest to emerge as one of the greatest batsmen the game has ever seen.