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Neeru Bhatia
Neeru Bhatia


Chasing greatness

50Kohli One-man army: Kohli after the match against Australia in Mohali | Salil Bera

Second-innings specialist Virat Kohli has grown into a calm, responsible and focused cricketer

  • After the match against Australia, “Kohlified” was the buzzword, and there were comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar.

  • Kohli's diet includes grilled fish and excludes rice and chapati. To unwind, he listens to Punjabi singer Gurdas Maan.

In this World Twenty20, Virat Kohli has taken huge strides, on and off the field. The latest instance was the brilliant 82 not out in Mohali, on March 27, that knocked out Australia. In its previous match, India had beaten Bangladesh by a single run and, going into the match, nerves were still frayed. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had looked tetchy on the field against Bangladesh and had lost his temper at a journalist in the post-match news conference. The captain was losing his cool. Enter his deputy, vice captain Kohli, who looked uncharacteristically calm. “If we had relied only on our reputation and our confidence, we may not have been able to win those two games (Pakistan and Bangladesh). We have looked at it as a humbling experience,” he told the media. He patiently answered every question and even cracked the odd joke. When asked if he prayed to retain focus, he said: “Do I look like someone who does pooja paath?”, and burst out laughing.

A charismatic Kohli had, in one move, erased the bad taste of Dhoni's tirade a day ago. There has been a role reversal—the original captain cool had become irritable and the angry young boy assumed the mantle of coolness.

In an aggressive format, Kohli did not win the matches through brute force. It was elegant, textbook stroke play that took India home. In fact, throughout this tournament, there has been talk of a certain type of batsmen—the ones with a strong technique who, despite not hitting every ball for six, win matches for their teams in style. The club consists of Kohli, England's Joe Root, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson and Australian captain Steven Smith. The discussion started with Root's exceptional 83 against South Africa earlier in the tournament. The innings helped England chase down a mammoth 229. Kohli's heroics in Mohali, however, overshadowed Root's efforts and praise poured in from across the globe. English footballer Harry Kane tweeted: “Virat Kohli is some player in the high pressure situations. Shows what type of player you are and he does it time and time again.”

SAID AUSTRALIAN ALL-ROUNDER Shane Watson: “More than anything, it is a pleasure to be able to watch these guys bat. How easily [Kohli] is able to play the balls in the gaps and over the fence. [It] is incredible. Similarly, Root, who we saw against South Africa, has got all the scoring options. From being a very good Test and ODI cricketer to be able to adapt to T20s as well, he is continuing to get better.”

Watson said it was Smith's mental strength that helped him bat for long hours, without giving bowlers any opportunities. His mental strength, however, was tested in the match against India. Leading his team against a galloping Kohli, Smith could only describe the 55-ball 82 as a “pretty serious innings”.

Williamson, however, was more generous with his praise. “They (Kohli and Root) have been playing brilliantly, I love both,” he said. “[They are] outstanding cricketers and they have been fantastic for a long period of time. Watching these two bat and perform, you can learn a lot.”

When asked about Smith's batting, Kohli said: “You want to make it as difficult as possible for the batsman, but top-quality players around the world do tend to have answers, more often than not. Yes, he is a world-class player, but I am going to get him out today.”

The mutual admiration among the young guns seems genuine and what stands out is their delight in playing the game. Kohli is intense and unabashed, Root and Smith are just a tad serious, and Williamson is understated and engrossed in his music—his guitar is always slung on his shoulders, even on flights. Perhaps the one with the biggest shoes to fill—those of Kiwi talisman Brendon McCullum—Williamson doesn't seem unnerved at all.

While all four youngsters have become stars, Kohli's incredible statistics have catapulted him to the top of the group. While chasing in T20s, Kohli, in his 15 innings, has made 737 runs at an average of 122.83, with a strike rate of 131.13. He scored eight half centuries along the way and his highest score is 82 not out. The progression of his Mohali innings was especially noteworthy; towards the end, the scoreboard read: 2,2,4,2,2,1,1lb,4,4,6,2,1lb,0,4,4,4,0,4.

52KaneWilliamson The new breed: (From left) Kane Williamson, Steven Smith and Joe Root | PTI, Salil Bera, AFP

AFTER THE MATCH, “Kohlified” was the buzzword, and there were comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar. However, Kohli, who has looked up to only one cricketer, Tendulkar, would desist from any comparison.

But Kohli, too, has been a genius in the making ever since he made his international debut in 2008. The transformation started in 2010-11, when he took the number three spot in Tests and ODIs and the number four spot in T20s. However, the turning point for the brash youngster was in 2014—he was made the Test captain for the series in Australia. Though India lost the series, a new Kohli had emerged. He became calmer, was more responsible and had also improved his technique. He became a cricketer who thrived under pressure. Team director Ravi Shastri has played a key role in moulding the star. He encouraged Kohli to dig deep and discover new dimensions to his cricket and personality.

BEFORE EVERY MATCH in this tournament, Kohli would raise his hand in the dressing room and say he would win it for India. While some might call it audacious, those who have worked with him would disagree. A perfect example was the innings against Australia. The sense of fulfilment and relief was palpable as Kohli sunk to his knees after the match. He had done his job.

“It was a tremendous batting effort,” said Dhoni. “I think, more often than not, it is about [his] selection and execution of shots. Virat was very good not just with his stroke play, but also while running. You take minimum risk if you run fast.” Even Dhoni, a hare between the wickets, was left panting on a few occasions.

Kohli, evidently, has been focusing on his fitness. The exercise regimen is intense; the diet includes grilled fish and excludes rice and chapati for months on end. To unwind, he listen sto Punjabi singer Gurdas Maan.

“Everything is a planned time table in his life,” said a source who has watched him closely in the dressing room. “He is aware of what, where, how much and how long to do any activity—be it training, relaxation, diet, team-related duties or other activities. Each thing is planned and stuck to.”

Kohli's biggest asset, however, is his match awareness. He knows exactly what to do in any given circumstance, and this, perhaps, makes him stand taller than his teammates. His intent is visible from the time his pads up—he is always in a hurry to get to the crease, and wastes little time in taking guard.

Though he is known for assessing the on-field situation, Kohli does not over-think before a match. “You need to plan according to your strengths. But, on game day, you need to think on your feet,” he said. “Too much pre-planning doesn't work.” This refusal to over-analyse sets him apart from his predecessors, who were known to carry a lot of baggage from the past.

Then again, Kohli cannot be compared to anyone. Time and again, he has shown that he is in a league of his own. He is fearless yet respectful, and is definitely emotional. The most striking example was his determination to speak out against those who have been trolling his ex-girlfriend, actor Anushka Sharma.

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Topics : #cricket | #Virat Kohli | #T20

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