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Virat Kohli's evolution (2008-2018): The journey in pictures

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Aadya Sharma

Before even playing his first game for India, Virat Kohli had etched his name in history books with a World Cup triumph at the age of 19, leading a team of talented youngsters to the U-19 title.

Kohli tasted huge success before even making his India debut
Kohli tasted huge success before even making his India debut

However, as is the case in Indian cricket, it's not about making your mark: it's about maintaining it. The sheer volume of competition has no parallels, and a player has to continuously adapt, both technically and mentally, to stay relevant with the ever-changing dynamics of the game.

The Virat Kohli of 2018 is a far cry from the drum-beating, chubby 19-year-old in 2008. A lot has changed in Indian cricket since, including Kohli, who has evolved into a near-complete batsman with an unmatched quest for excellence and an eerily consistent approach to batting, across formats, conditions and seasons.

Virat Kohli, pictured a day before his international debut in Sri Lanka
Virat Kohli, pictured a day before his international debut in Sri Lanka

Here's a look at his journey from an unsure 19-year-old in 2008, to an all-encompassing leader, and arguably, the world's best batsman in 2018.

An unglamorous ODI debut

Burdened by expectations, Kohli did not have a stunning start to his India career
Burdened by expectations, Kohli did not have a stunning start to his India career

A visibly nervous Kohli, making his ODI debut in Sri Lanka, looked out of sorts, playing and missing after being given the opener’s slot along with Gautam Gambhir. The innings produced only 12 runs, but Kohli stuck around for the remainder of the series, managing starts, including a fifty in his fourth game.

Interestingly, he was let go off for a year, and returned only as a replacement for the injured Gambhir. An under-pressure unbeaten 79 against West Indies in the Champions Trophy meant that he had repaid the faith placed by the selectors.

As he grew in confidence and managed a consistent run with the side, Kohli’s game started flourishing. Not afraid to brandish his natural game, he managed to breach the three-digit figure against Sri Lanka in 2009, a side against which he would score profusely in the future.

Kohli's first ODI century gave his career a much-needed thrust
Kohli's first ODI century gave his career a much-needed thrust

He followed it up with a consistent run of scores in the tri-nation series against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and carried the success for the first time away from home, against Zimbabwe in 2010.

Making a name in the shortest format

Kohli received his T20I cap in 2010
Kohli received his T20I cap in 2010

By 2010, T20Is wasn't a fun format anymore, and the Board had started to identify a set of players ideal for the shortest version based on their IPL performances. Kohli was growing as a player with the Royal Challengers Bangalore, and had proved his mettle on subcontinental pitches, ably facing both pace and spin.

A young Kohli started proving his mettle away from home as well
A young Kohli started proving his mettle away from home as well

He was handed his T20I cap in June 2010, against Zimbabwe on their own ground. Not a typical slam-bang batsman, Kohli made the T20 format his own over the years: he evolved into a shrewd batsman, identified his strengths and honed them to adapt to the shortest format with surprising ease.

World Cup glory at 23

A century i
A century in the World Cup added Kohli to elite company

All this while, the selectors knew that a player of his calibre had to be backed, despite questions over his temperament and brash attitude. A clear sign of his future emerged after he was named in the final squad for the 2011 World Cup, a big achievement for the 23-year-old who had played 45 ODIs till then.

Kohli tasted the ultimate glory at 23
Kohli tasted ultimate glory at 23

He made a cracking start to the marquee tournament, scoring a century in his debut World Cup match against Bangladesh, proving he knew how to up his game on the biggest stage.

A shambolic Test series against England might have dampened India’s World Cup party, but Kohli emerged as one of the diamonds from the rough, doing well in both ODIs and T20Is on swinging pitches in England.

Proving mettle in whites

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Kohli got to play with his mentor for 18 Tests

Having proved that he could score on foreign soil, Kohli got onto the bus for India’s tour to the West Indies in 2011, with the team slowly losing its famed batting attack to age. The middle-order needed some fixing, but Kohli’s inclusion was accompanied by question marks: still perceived as a hot-headed batsman, his temperament was thought to be ill-suited for the longest format.

A century
The century against Australia at Adelaide in 2012 turned his Test career for the better

He struggled in his first few games, but came out with, perhaps, a career-changing innings that made the world sit up and take notice of his mental prowess and ability to thrive under extreme pressure. A century against Australia, in Australia, was the only ingredient he needed to ripen and become a middle-order fixture.

The turning point in his career

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The knock against Sri Lanka will be remembered for ages

Kohli’s resume ballooned in 2012, a year which can be identified as a turning point in his career, taking his game above his competitors. It started with a jaw-dropping 133* against Sri Lanka, an innings that paid no heed to required run-rates, Kohli displaying a surreal exhibition of clean and authoritative strokes to take his side home.

Kohli slammed a career-best 183 against Pakistan in 2012
Kohli slammed a career-best 183 against Pakistan in 2012

A month later, he blasted a career-best 183, in incidentally, Sachin Tendulkar’s final ODI game. The baton was being passed, and Kohli was ready to take up the challenge. He scored five ODI and three Test tons in 2012, to well and truly announce his arrival.

Acing the shorter formats

Kohli was in top form during the World T20 in 2014
Kohli was in top form during the World T20 in 2014

His limited-overs game catapulted to a different level during the World T20 in 2014, a case of ‘almost there’ for the Indian team. Before stumbling at the final hurdle, the Indian side looked like the team to beat, with Kohli carrying the torch ahead with some stupendous knocks.

The run continued in ODIs as well, with centuries in Australia and New Zealand helping rub off the scars of a below-par series in England.

The ultimate recognition

Kohli received his Test captaincy in 2014
Kohli received his Test captaincy in 2014

That Kohli was getting primed for the biggest role in Indian cricket was evident, but the manner in which he was handed the Test captaincy will always be a story to recall. MS Dhoni’s unexpected departure handed Kohli the reins of a team that had seen both good and bad, and in the process, had lost its most valuable stars. The task was herculean; riding a team of players to a new future required guts and brains in the right combination.

Kohli made sure that the added burden only inspired him to perform further with the bat. It looked as though the move had galvanised him, the aggression started mingling with maturity like poster colours on a palette. Kohli found a middle-ground, and he has been revelling in it ever since.

A century against Pakistan in the WC further enhanced Kohli's reputation
A century against Pakistan in the WC further enhanced Kohli's reputation

The World Cup followed, and Kohli scored a century in the mother of all opening World Cup games, against Pakistan, but the form tapered off after that. It was just a lull before the storm.

The year of Virat Kohli

Kohli could do no wrong with the bat in 2016
Kohli could do no wrong with the bat in 2016

2016 was a year of change for Indian cricket, one that was so wonderfully charted by Virat Kohli in a purple patch that matched Sachin Tendulkar’s 1998 exploits, and sadly, kickstarted a series of unnecessary comparisons between the two. It seemed as if Kohli had ironed out whatever minor flaws there were in his game, slaughtering attacks across the Asia Cup and the World T20. The latter saw him score some absolute gems, and try admirably to take India past the finish line.

His limited-overs form rubbed onto Tests as well, as Kohli aced the longest format
His limited-overs form rubbed onto Tests as well, as Kohli aced the longest format

A nonpareil IPL performance (one wonders what drove him through that insane run of form), opened up to a period of amazing richness: one where he scored across three formats (including double centuries in Tests) without seeming to break a sweat.

What’s next?

Captain in all three formats, Kohl is the key to India's success in the future
Captain in all three formats, Kohl is the key to India's success in the future

Indian cricket has become synonymous with Kohli now, and with the addition of both the ODI and T20I captaincies, the 30-year-old is the man who will mould the game’s future in the country. Driven by a passion few can match, and a control over his own game and the match itself, Kohli’s name is already being spoken of in the same breath as some of the most illustrious to have played the sport.

The future looks bright for Kohli and India
The future looks bright for Kohli and India

He’s already the second-leading ODI century-maker, is thriving in Tests and T20Is, and is driving the team with his own brand of captaincy. The future looks bright for Kohli and India.

Edited by Arvind Sriram

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