We are bound to run out of superlatives when we start to describe Virat Kohli, the Indian cricketer who continues to take batting across all formats to another level. Such has been his rate of success not just in 2016, but ever since he made his debut in 2008. Kohli has dominated many a bowling attack, shown very few frailties and made batting look extremely simple. Of course, those are admirable aspects about the 27-year-old right-hander on their own, but the foremost question is, what makes him stand out from the rest, what are his admirable aspects and why your respect for him will only soar?
Virat Kohli: The Special One of Indian Cricket
All of us in life come across pressure situations and we strive to tackle them to the best of our abilities. With Kohli, however, what happens is, he puts pressure on himself and then, tries to thrive on the same factor. His hunger to score runs when he is batting for India and the winning mentality with which he captains the side in the Test format are perfect examples of how Kohli pressurises himself to be the best in his trade. You can call it pressure, or substitute it with ‘high standard’, maintaining which can be a tall order. But Kohli, the genius he is, does so coolly.
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Let us rewind one of Kohli’s recent innings, to realise how he challenges himself or, as aforementioned, sets his standards.
ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016, the biennial competition, was staged in India during March-April this year. India had prepared ever so well in the lead-up to the tournament, winning the three-T20I series in Australia, against Srilanka at home and bagging the Asia Cup too, just days prior to the start of the WT20 2016 proper.
As the hosts, India were bound to face challenges and had to overcome them, if they were to go on and become the first WT20 hosts to win the title. The Men in Blue lost the Group 2 opener against New Zealand, won the next two against Pakistan and Bangladesh, and then were locked in a virtual quarterfinal against Australia, with the winner guaranteed of a place in the semifinals.
Mohali was the venue and Australia opted to bat first after winning the toss. Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch gave their team a blazing start, but the Ashish Nehra-led Indian bowling attack stymied the Australian middle order and restricted them to a modest 160. The target of 161 was supposed to be a walk in the park for the hosts, but it proved to be an enthralling chase, orchestrated by… Kohli.
India, in pursuit of 161, were reduced to 49/3 in the eighth over of their innings. Kohli was batting at one end and had Yuvraj Singh for company. The stylish southpaw twisted his ankle in trying to play a glance off his hips very early on during his knock, and simply could not run. Twos became ones, threes could not be taken and the run-rate, expectedly, kept going up. Kohli knew that the game hinged on him and his dismissal would likely spell the end of India’s WT20 2016 campaign. He had to preserve his wicket and ensure that the required run-rate was kept in control—which he could not entirely manage, however.
At the end of 10 overs, India had scored only 65 runs and the Kohli-Yuvraj duo were in the middle. Yuvraj’s presence had more of an inhibiting effect on the Indian innings, but you could not fault the Man of the Tournament in the ICC 50-over Cricket World Cup 2011, for effort or his intentions. Kohli, though, was the one who suffered the most, as Yuvraj’s batting partner. Kohli had to either accrue runs in twos or hit fours, or else he could not get much of the strike.
But he waited, patiently, and didn’t press the panic button at all. The required run-rate, which was 9.60 runs/over at the start of the 11th over, jumped to 11s and 12s quite quickly. Kohli had no option but to delay pulling the trigger, as the result of the game hinged on him.
One of the most striking aspects of Kohli’s innings was the way he collected singles and twos throughout his knock of 82* (51). He did score 48 runs in boundaries (9 x 4 and 2 x 6), but a whopping 34 runs came in singles (18) and twos (7)—an indication of how well he had planned his innings and almost single-handedly kept India in the hunt. I have to reiterate that Kohli’s dismissal would, in all probability, have seen India lose to Australia and exit the WT20 2016 campaign.
Once MS Dhoni arrived in the middle, Kohli batted differently and was willing to play the big shots, to bridge the gap between balls and required runs. And, guess what, he was precise in his shot-making and did not falter. So, basically, Kohli’s 82* was arguably the perfect T20 knock, if you ask me, because of the way he went about accruing his runs, planned his innings and had the confidence in himself to take his team over the line.
The reason behind this detailed narration is because of the way Kohli visualised his innings and then went on and won the game for India. He took the burden on his shoulders by refusing to take risks during the initial phase of his innings, but I can tell you that he would have been confident of getting the job done. While the stricken Yuvraj was in the middle and the scoreboard was not ticking along at even an acceptable pace, it would have been easy for anyone to think that “I need to make-up for the runs which my batting partner is missing out on”, but Kohli thinks in a different fashion and of course, sets a huge standard for himself.
The Delhi dynamo, who bided his time and refrained from playing any big strokes for much of his innings, made light work of the constantly climbing run-rate and the chase in the end. Everyone expected the game to be decided on the anti-penultimate, penultimate or even the ultimate ball of the match, but the fact that the match finished with five balls remaining, was a testament to Kohli, the Indian Cricket’s Special One.
“That’s why you do those fitness regimes, those sprints, and all the other tests you go through. It all helps. I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero and I think that training paid off today” were Kohli’s words during the post-match presentation, clearly demonstrating the hunger, dedication and the winning mentality he has. He also raises the bar every time he goes out to bat, performing under the pressure he puts himself under. He is also an articulate and a great communicator—an invaluable quality to have!
Kohli is an extremely efficient chaser and no longer does it startle us when he engineers a run-chase and wins the game for India. But the aspect that stands out these days is Kohli’s defiant attitude after a loss. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the IPL 2016 Final last Sunday. They were on course for the victory when Chris Gayle and Kohli were in the middle and had taken their team to a seemingly impregnable position at the halfway mark. But the Royal Challengers, who reached 112/0 at the end of the 10th over, were pegged back by some good bowling from the Sunrisers’ bowlers, as they picked wickets at regular intervals and ensured there was no set batsman in the middle, to orchestrate the chase, once Kohli, who has a tremendous success rate in chasing targets, was dismissed.
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After his team’s eight-run loss, the way Kohli walked onto the field and congratulated SRH players and their skipper, David Warner, one of Kohli’s fiercest rivals during India’s 2014/15 tour of Australia, was wonderful and exemplary viewing. It is an indicator that Kohli is maturing as a cricketer and can handle defeats pragmatically—an aspect which is of paramount importance for any skipper.
On the aspect of captaincy, one cannot overlook the pep talk Kohli gave Team India in January 2016, when the Men in Blue found themselves 4-0 down to Australia in a five-match ODI series. With one more ODI to go in the series, followed by a three-match T20I series, Kohli told his teammates that they could “finish the tour on 4-4” by winning the last four games, giving you an insight into how he thinks and how inspirational he can be to those who play under him. And the best aspect is, Kohli goes out there and leads by example.
Kohli also produced one of the iconic cricket moments in recent memory, by bowing down to Sachin Tendulkar, who was seated in the stands at the Eden Gardens during India’s ICC WT20 2016 Group 2 fixture against Pakistan. Kohli, who was once again in the middle and orchestrating a tricky run-chase, bowed down to the former India great, not once but a couple of times wholeheartedly, after reaching his half-century. It was just a glorious moment for everyone watching, as Kohli exhibited his “respect” for the man who he is emulating currently.
The hunger for success, the motivation to excel on all days, the ability to think positively and be confident in his own ability, and the respect he has for his contemporaries and those who he grew up watching, are the most admirable aspects of Kohli, the Phenom and the Special One of Indian Cricket. Those qualities are also why people love Virat so much. And, if you ask me, those traits of Kohli are what will make cricket fans not just in India but all over the world admire and respect the star Indian batsman, for whom their admiration and respect will only continue to grow!