06 December 2015
Virat Kohli, destined for greatness
It’s not often that those who have led the team at the U-19 level successfully make the transition to leadership of the senior team, but Kohli was earmarked as special from early on
Virat Kohli is that rare player, who led India to glory at the ICC U-19 World Cup on March 2, 2008 and, by December 9, 2014, was leading the Indian team out on to the field at Adelaide Oval in a Test match against Australia. That, admittedly, was a stopgap arrangement that was necessitated by MS Dhoni’s absence. But, by the last Test of the series, at Sydney Cricket Ground, Kohli was officially the full-time captain of the Indian Test team.
In that Adelaide Test itself, interestingly, Kohli gave the world a good idea of what his attitude towards captaincy would be like – go for a win, whatever the circumstances.
In conjunction with Ravi Shastri, the Indian team director, Kohli was going to take Indian cricket in a brand new direction, one where, despite facing Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon, and faced with a 364-run last-innings target, Kohli wanted to win. India lost that game, by 48 runs, but it was only after Kohli had led the way with a classy 141.
Since then, Kohli has chanted the same mantra: 20 wickets, bowlers win matches, winning is all that matters. On the field, a rain-hit draw in a one-off Test in Bangladesh aside, India has won 2-1 in Sri Lanka and at home against South Africa, the No. 1-ranked team in the ICC Test rankings. Walking the talk, with a young team at that, which, till before the run of wins, was being talked about as one in transition after the retirement of the great men who made India such a strong team through the 2000s.
To those who watched Kohli lead in that 2008 ICC U-19 World Cup, though, the desire to win was very much in evidence. Kohli was only the third-highest run-getter in that tournament. In fact, he wasn’t even the highest scorer from the Indian team – Tanmay Srivastava led the charts with 262 runs from six games, while Kohli had 235. Kieran Powell, the Antiguan batsman, was sandwiched between the two with 253 runs. Kohli did get one of only three centuries in that tournament, though, 100 against the West Indies.
But long before he became one of cricket’s superstars and most sought after names, had that steel, in his eyes and in his demeanour that set him apart. In Delhi cricket circles, where Kohli grew up and played all of his early cricket, he had been marked as one to watch out for.
Chetan Chauhan, the former India Test opener and senior official at Delhi and District Cricket Association, marked Kohli out for great things soon after he lifted the trophy in Kuala Lumpur – “Exemplary temperament while batting, very attacking captain, very intelligent”, he said in a TV chat show.
Kohli took some time to find his feet in One-Day Internationals and Tests, but in both formats, once he got going, it became apparent quickly that he was one of the hottest young batsmen in the game, scoring big runs almost each time he walked out, especially in ODIs.
He started with tags of brash and arrogant tacked on, but Kohli has always been a deep thinker of the game, and in the past few years, it’s his mature, thoughtful and balanced side that has been on show. He comes across as someone who knows his cricket, things about his game and his captaincy, and is out to build a team for the future, one that he hopes can become a winner across different countries, conditions and climes.
As for his own game, there are few better batsmen in the world, Kohli is right up there among the best, with Test centuries already in Adelaide (thrice, including in both innings in the Test he led in), Johannesburg, Wellington, Melbourne, Sydney and Galle, some of the toughest tests an Indian batsman can ask for.
One of the few U-19 stars who has achieved great success in a relatively short international career, Kohli is destined for greatness. His ODI average is over 50 (over 166 innings) and the Test average is well over 40 from 41 games. And most impressive of all, as Rahul Dravid said of him, everytime there he has seen Kohli after some months, he has seen a better player, one who had been driven by his hunger for runs and success to iron out flaws, to seek a better way, and to constantly set the bar higher.
ICC Under-19 World Cup – review of the past editions
ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016 – the groups and the tournament