By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Inimitably unique off the field, India’s batting leader brings calm and classicism that warms connoisseurs hearts to the centre
By then, Kohli had galloped to 54 and India had closed to within 23 runs of a second consecutive victory. Against that backdrop, the reaction might have appeared a touch extreme. The reaction, though, was encouraging from the point of view of the Indian team and its fans. Virat Kohli isn’t an easy man to please, the standards he sets for himself are remarkably high, and he doesn’t enjoy giving his wicket away, no matter the circumstances or the compulsions.
India has been reasonably untroubled thus far in its march at the ICC World Twenty20 2014. It owes its status as the leader of Group 2 to the bowlers, who have been pleasantly effective in restricting Pakistan and West Indies to 130 for 7 and 129 for 7 respectively in two matches thus far at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. These are totals that, more often than not, get chased down with some degree of comfort in Twenty20 cricket, unless the pitch is so diabolically loaded in favour of the slower bowlers that even survival becomes difficult, forget about boundary-striking or rotation of the strike.
Conditions at the Sher-e-Bangla have been far from diabolical. Admittedly, there is more for the bowlers, of the spinning sort in particular, in the night games, but batting second under lights hasn’t appeared all that demanding. Then again, that could be because of Kohli. Only time will tell.
Kohli, of course, has made it a habit of stamping his authority across almost every cricket ground in the world. From the time he showed that he belonged at the highest level with a sparkling century against Australia in the Adelaide Test in January 2012, he has been an unstoppable force, gathering momentum with every passing outing and today establishing himself among the top batsmen in all three formats of the game. There aren’t too many who can claim to be in that elite group. His consistency across Tests, 50-over and T20 cricket is something that can only be marvelled at. At 25, Kohli has already ensured that most of the adjectives have been exhausted. The greater part of his career, perhaps even his best years, lies ahead of him. Just to think what he can go on to achieve should he continue to build on the gains of his first half-dozen seasons in international boggles the mind, truly.
There are some who might crumble under the weight of being the kingpin of the batting unit so early in their careers. They can allow the pressure of being expected to hold up the innings, to lend it direction and substance, reassurance and rudder, time after time, to get to them. And then there is, like Sachin Tendulkar before him, Kohli, who positively thrives on being the one everyone looks up to.
Lest it should be so construed, this is no attempt to compare Kohli with Tendulkar. The glorious past of Indian, indeed world, cricket has slipped into history; the exciting present, which holds the promise of a spectacular future, is a star in his own right, a batsman in the classical mould who has used his strong basics and an intelligent mind to court success in even the abridged versions without compromising on the orthodoxy that makes him so easy on the eye. Kolhi is his own man, a man after his own heart, an entertainer and a performer, and a showman when he so desires.
But don’t be taken in by the earring and the tattoos. Those are fashion statements much in vogue these days, even in Indian cricket which has tended over the years to place its faith in the ‘good boys’, the conformists rather than the trend-setters. It’s a sign of the changing times that today, the poster boy of Indian cricket is a wonderfully balanced amalgam of the conventional when it comes to the game itself and the inimitably unique when it comes to life off the field.
That he has managed to compartmentalise so effortlessly, to channel his energies toward cricket when it is time to do so and yet have the confidence and the courage to be himself when he is not involved with the game is one of Kohli’s great strengths and gifts. He is unafraid of being spoken about. His private life can seldom remain private because, after all, he is a celebrity and therefore, we all believe, has no access to something as ‘mundane’ as a private life. But if he is affected by the full relentless, omniscient eye of public glare, then he is also a very fine actor to go with being a very fine batsman, because there is no outward evidence of that.
Bangladesh has been fortunate to have witnessed Kohli at his majestic best from close quarters. The Sher-e-Bangla has been a particularly favourite hunting ground. In 11 ODIs, he has made an astonishing 737 runs at 105.28. There have been four hundreds and three fifties in 10 innings, including a truly breathtaking 183 off 148 deliveries that allowed India to scale down Pakistan’s 329 with ridiculous ease some 24 months back, in the Asia Cup.
Already in this World T20, Kohli has scores of 36 not out and 54 in modest run-chases that can sometimes turn out to be tricky. When he has walked out at first wicket down – be it at 54 against Pakistan or on 1 in the first over against the West Indies – he has brought with him a sense of calmness and purpose. To watch him at work is a joyous experience that warms the cockles of the connoisseur. The surety of feet movement, the closeness of the bat to the body, the dexterity of the wrists, the fluency with which he drives through the on-side with an admixture of those wrists and the bottom hand, the way he gets low to drive through the covers – each act is poetry in motion.
Kohli has the steel and the substance too to go with the style. India’s captain in waiting must wait awhile, because Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t finished yet, but he sure can help his captain carve out another slice of history. For that, his bat must continue to produce the most mellifluous music for the next 12 days or so, at the very least.