Date - December 19, 2006
Venue - Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, New Delhi
Going into the third day of their four-day Ranji Trophy league match against Karnataka, the hosts Delhi were 105 for 3 and needed another 192 runs to avoid the follow-on. Much of the side’s hope hinged on a certain 18-year old, Virat Kohli, who was unbeaten on 40 overnight. The prospect of Kohli turning up to bat in the morning was very dim, though. Reason - The teenager received the shocking news of his father’s death early in the morning and had to leave for home.
To everyone’s surprise, the youngster was back to the ground just before the start of the day’s play. He wore a blank look, but he batted with steel, adding 50 runs to his overnight total. He was finally dismissed for 90, but by then he had ensured safety for his team. Delhi scored 308 and there was not enough time for Karnataka to press for a victory as the match meandered to a draw.
Young Kohli’s display of determination and dedication in the face of an irreparable personal loss that day was a perfect sign of the things to come. Over the next 10 years, these two words – determination and dedication – have defined Virat as he has scaled one high after another. At present, he is the only batsman in the world who averages 50 plus across all the three formats of the gentleman’s game.
Kohli’s most recent masterclass in dedication and determination was on display in the third Test of India-England series at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. On a turner, the Indian skipper essayed one of his best innings to date, scoring a majestic 235 to help his side register a comprehensive win, despite conceding 400 in the first innings.
This was Kohli’s 15th Test ton in his 89th innings. Among Indian batsmen, only Sunil Gavaskar took fewer Tests (77) to reach this milestone, while Sachin Tendulkar did it in 89 innings as well. His numbers in ODIs are even more staggering. He has 26 hundreds from 176 matches and appears to be the only batsman capable of surpassing Tendulkar’s tally of 49 ODI centuries from 463 matches.
The early years
Kohli made his ODI debut at Dambulla against Sri Lanka in August 2008. He scored only 12 before falling leg before wicket to Kulasekara. Like his debut innings, the first year of his international cricket went unnoticed. He scored his maiden ODI hundred in 2009. The opposition was again Sri Lanka - a team he would go on to play many memorable innings against later.
From 2008 to 2011, Kohli played in the shadow of stalwarts like Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir. He scored runs, but didn’t set the stage on fire. He was a member of the World Cup winning Indian team in 2011 and contributed a crucial 35 in the run chase against Sri Lanka in the final, which is best remembered for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s match-winning 79-ball 91 not out. Kohli earned his first Test cap during India’s tour of the West Indies in 2011. He could muster only scores of 4 and 15 in his maiden Test, though.
Watershed tour Down Under
The turning point in Kohli’s career came during India’s tour of Australia in 2011-12. Though India were whitewashed in the four-Test series, Kohli slammed a fighting hundred in the last Test at Adelaide Oval. Earlier, he had produced scores of 44 and 75 in the third Test in Perth. These knocks enhanced Kohli’s reputation in the eyes of players from both the opposition and his own team.
Kohli’s watershed moment came at Hobart in a league match of the ensuing ODI Tri-Series. Batting first, Sri Lanka amassed 320/4 in 50 overs. India, then, faced a daunting task of chasing 321 inside 40 overs to keep their hopes of meeting Australia in the finals alive. Considering the kind of lackluster show Indian batsman had put on in previous matches of the tour, chasing the target appeared impossible even in 50 overs.
Virat, though, had other ideas that day. After Sehwag and Tendulkar got India off to a flyer, Kohli batted as if he belonged to some other planet where chasing an eight-run-per-over-target was a routine affair. He plundered the Sri Lankan bowlers on his way to a whirlwind 86-ball 133 as India sauntered home in only 36.4 overs. Sri Lanka’s yorker machine, Lasith Malinga, returned figures of 1/96 from his 7.4 overs.
For the last three years, Kohli has displayed an extraordinary level of consistency across the three formats. He has scored runs in Tests both on home soil and overseas. His form in ODIs has been exemplary. He has scored prolifically in IPL (Indian Premier League) matches and international T-20s.
The year 2016, in particular, has turned out to be an annus mirabilis for Kohli. He began the year with two hundreds in a five-match ODI series against Australia. He was player of the tournament in the T-20 World Championship held in India in the month of March-April. In the 9th edition of the IPL, Kohli, who led Royal Challengers Banglore to the final, stacked a record-shattering 973 runs @ 81.08 from 16 matches.
In Tests, the added responsibility of captaincy seems to have spurred him on to perform even more consistently. He has 1200 runs @80 from 11 Tests this year. Apart from scaling these individual highs, he has also led India to victory in all the three Test series this year (West Indies, New Zealand, England). He is proving to be a very successful captain as India are yet to lose a Test let alone a series under his reign.
For all his Gladiatorial achievements, Kohli is still only 28 and has at least seven years of international cricket left in him. If he can continue to bat the way he has done so far, by the time he hangs his boots, he will have his name enshrined on most of the records a batsman can lay his hands on.