I remember having a conversation at the end of 2011 with one of my co-bloggers about this youngster called Virat Kohli who was just starting to make a few runs for India in ODIs. I told him then that this guy would be a future star for India, maybe even the next Sachin. While we chomped on our respective orders of butter chicken in a restaurant in London’s Covent Garden, my friend dismissed the idea outright. He said that he had hoped the same of Gambhir but he was now on his way out of the team. He said despairingly we would never find anyone even half as good as Sachin or Sehwag.
Five years later, here we are.
The kid is now captain of the Indian test team. He has nearly won us two WT20s single-handedly and is on track to beat Sachin’s record of 49 hundreds in ODIs. He has effortlessly slipped into the vacuum created by Sachin’s retirement and now shoulders the expectations of a cricket-mad nation. I still feel a bit smug about my prediction.
Let’s face it. If Virat Kohli was in any team other than India, we would have probably hated his guts. The carefully arranged hair, the plucked eyebrows, the Bollywood (ex?) girlfriend and the incessant sledging would have annoyed us no end.
But Kohli is one of ours and we love him. With our cricket-watching population, this makes him the most loved cricketer in the world. Simple mathematics, yaar.
But can he lay claim to being the world’s best batsman?
By all accounts, everything in Kohli’s life is geared towards making him the best batsman in the world. He dedicates hours to his gym routine, carefully controls his diet and has mammoth sessions in the nets. He is dedicated to his craft and is hungry for runs. Playing in the post-Dada era, he believes in taking the game by the scruff of its neck without a backward step. Virat’s passion for the game is evident and while this has led to a few disciplinary issues, leading the test team has required him to control his emotions on the field. He is scoring mountains of runs and also slowly earning the grudging respect of opposing teams the world over (after rubbing most of them up the wrong way in his early years).
But I think the answer to the burning question is – not yet. The other contenders are obvious – Joe Root, A.B. De Villiers and Kane Williamson. Steve Smith and David Warner are probably in the rung just below these four.
Root, ABdV and Williamson are all stupendous batsman in their own right. Each of them play all three formats with success. Each of them is central to their batting line-ups and opposition captains need to design specific plans to target these players. Crucially, each of them has had success all over the world. That includes England, which remains the only black mark against Virat’s name at the moment.
India’s tour of England in 2014 saw the England bowlers, led by Jimmy Anderson, give Kohli a proper working over. He had come to England with a big reputation and left the country bewildered by the swinging ball. With scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0,7, 6 and 20 in the five Tests, Virat averaged 13.50 in his ten test innings.
You can bet your life that he remembers 2014 and will do everything in his power to set the record straight when India tour England again in 2018. Until then, however, he will have to be content with being one of contenders, not the undisputed king.
I, for one, look forward to being at Lords sometime in June 2018 when Virat Kohli’s name goes up on the honours board. Remember, you read it here first.
In the mean time, forget the stats. Forget the hundreds. Forget Virat’s mastery of the chase. Just enjoy his cover drive. If Dada’s cover drive coaxed the ball to the boundary, Kohli wrists use a whip to propel it there. He is the Indian team’s new saviour and that one shot sums him up – exceptional, exotic, perfectly timed and perfectly placed.
The era of the Little Master may have ended in 2013 but I think we are yet to see the best of (the full-sized master) Virat Kohli. The next few years promise to be a treat.