Virat Kohli’s aggressive mien, temperament, purposefulness and brilliance make him one of the all-time greats when it comes to chasing targets. A superb, unbeaten 154 off 134 balls in a challenging but successful run chase against New Zealand on Sunday is testimony to his outstanding batting in a chase.
For far too long, Indian batsmen have had the tag of being poor chasers. They would often panic or try extravagant strokes when in sight of victory, and repeatedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, leaving their supporters in despair.
One of the major reasons for this was their over-excitable nature; every time they found themselves in an unusual situation, they wouldn’t be in any position to control their exuberance. Wild shots or suicidal run-outs when the situation called for neither had left India short on many occasions.
All that has changed since Virat Kohli’s emergence. Ironically, part of Kohli’s enormous appeal to fans is that he is an extremely excitable person. Yet, paradoxically, he remains one of the coolest chasers of a target in Indian cricket. So much so that he now enjoys a cult status, almost on par with another legend of the game, Sachin Tendulkar.
However, unlike the batting maestro Tendulkar, who exuded a calm and collected exterior when at the crease, even as he took apart bowling attacks, Kohli is passion personified.
The Delhi batsman wears his emotion on his sleeve, is always pumped up for a chase, and gives it as good as he gets in any sledge-fest with the opposition. But the amazing part of his batting is that amid all the gesturing, goading and geeing, some channel in his mind keeps him cool, calm and focused, even in turbulent situations.
It is, perhaps, the mindset of a champion sportsman and the very fact that Kohli has stayed on course so often in chases marks him out as a very special international cricketer.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, himself one of the finest finishers in the business, acknowledged as much when he said that he (Dhoni) had promoted himself in the batting order, more for his own interests than the team’s.
Dhoni needed a big score to boost his confidence, and he came in at number four, secure in the knowledge that Kohli was at the other end. Kohli’s presence would have allowed the skipper to bide his time and not bother about scoring rates, and instead play himself in. Both batsmen are extremely quick between the wickets and this would have further allowed them to push the scoring along without getting frazzled by the asking rate.
Dhoni would have also have been confident that if needed, Kohli would have upped the ante without any prompting. This allowed him to get a measure of the pitch and opposition bowlers, to the extent that their 151-run partnership set up the win.
Kohli’s die was cast long before he broke into the Indian team. He shot into prominence as captain of the Indian Under-19 team which won the U-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008. But the tough work would have come earlier when he would have had to jostle to get into the BCCI’s system. That depended on getting selected for age group tournaments, catching the eye of talent scouts and being marked for various camps.
Kohli probably never forgot those tough early days when he’d have laboured very hard to hone his skills. A couple of years ago, on Teacher’s Day, in recognition of this, he presented his childhood coach Rajkumar Sharma with a brand new Skoda Rapid car. It was his way of acknowledging the efforts of others in making him the batting star that he is today.
Kohli’s big break came when he made it to the Indian ODI team in 2008 following the decision to rest Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. He was dropped when they returned to the team. He not only got back into the side, but also graduated to the Test team.
Kohli’s career suffered a few hiccups, before a career-changing knock of 75 against Australia in Perth was followed by a century in Adelaide that set him up for good.
Ever since, he has gone from strength to strength and scored tons of runs all over the world, except against England in England. That surely must rankle him. But with a Test double-century against New Zealand last month and this huge unbeaten 154 in an ODI, he is in just the right form and frame of mind to make the England bowlers pay for the indignities they heaped upon on him on their soil. Watch this space.