“It was like savoring your favorite date. Virat Kohli’s ring kissing celebration at Edgbaston was the apt dose of mystique in an epic drama”.
For starters Virat Kohli is a dude, at one point almost un-Indian. Just when you could not fathom an Indian cricketer showing middle finger to an ever boisterous Australian crowd, he did it. When you could hardly associate an Indian cricketer expressing himself like The Hulk after getting to a century he did it. He is dramatic yet romantic, majestic yet grounded, a bearded hunk who still rocks in a traditional attire.
He can be an Avenger’s superhero, yet he would write the most romantic tales with a bat in hand and an India jersey as his suit. There were many who hated him. Many were there who thought that he would not cement his place in the Indian XI because of his attitude. There were many who thought that a Rohit Sharma or an Ajinkya Rahane would always start ahead of him. I hate comparisons to the core, but there is no doubt that Virat is today what Sachin was when I was growing up. But as the modern great raised his 38th century in Pune recently, I thought my words could never find a better time or a more suitable occasion.
If there ever was an example of how you can leave the ego behind for something you really love and are passionate about, it has to be Virat himself. It’s almost been a fairy tale since the 2011 World Cup. Though that WC was only about Yuvraj and winning it for the master, Sachin, Virat had quitely left a mark.
The Real Journey
But it was only after the WC that the real journey began. The Australian summer of 2011-12 was a dreadful one for India. They had been blanked 4-0 in the tests, a series where the Pundits had given them serious chance of winning. But the then 23 old Delhi boy eclipsed the quartet of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to emerge as India’s highest run getter. But something special was still to come. On 28th of February 2012, Virat probably played one of the finest ODI innings of all times. He literally made a mockery of perhaps a very fine Sri Lankan attack. In all probabilities, his innings was very Sachinisque.
There was no Sharjah storm this time, but an ocean of pain of an abject summer and end of an Indian era. Boy, if only we had realised, it was the start of another. Sachin had given India a fabulous start in this game. Well, it was only apt that the master would pass on the baton to his apparent heir. Virat’s innings had the same grit and spark as Sachin’s. If Sachin’s innings was personified by Tony Greg’s commentary, Virat’s was by Ian Healy. Well it was unfortunate, that while Sachin could not win India the Sharjah desert storm classic, but won them the trophy courtesy another hundred in the finals, Virat’s ton proved insufficient in the end even though India won that game.
It would not be wrong to say that perhaps it was about time that India got it’s hero for the next generation. Later in 2013, after the Sachin had retired, Virat walked out at no.4 for India at Johannesburg. Against an invincible South African attack, he scored 119 runs. A billion people breathed easy back home. There was a feeling that the irreplaceable had been replaced. For years to come, people will again have a reason to bring their life to a halt and watch Virat bat, as if their life depended on it.
But as joyous as it has been to watch Virat become one of the modern greats, it has been even more assiduous to watch his succession as the leader of Indian Cricket. Well after the calm that Dhoni brought in the Indian cricket set up as a whole, it was time to mix a dose of aggression into it. Virat had already won the U-19 WC in his captaincy. It was the same day when Dhoni won India the VB Series in Australia for the first time ever in 2008. It was some sign from the supreme power. Four years later in the land Down Under, Virat would be India’s designated best batsman, every where, every time. He would shrug his England disaster and conquer Australia. And as much as we talk about Virat the batsman, his leadership skills set him apart.
While he has honed his game in the Dhoni school of leadership, his aggression now defines this relentless Indian team. They have not become the world beaters. No, not at all, but they can. While the subcontinent is impregnable currently, winning away is a serious work in progress. Somewhere deep down, every cricket follower in India hopes, that he will make this Indian team the greatest ever.
Player of the Generation
He leads by example and he walks the talk, whether it’s batting, fielding or fitness. He will take challenges head on and compete like it were his last game. His game has become elite ever since he has taken over the captaincy. His passion and intensity has rubbed on the others as well. The scoreline of 1-4 in England earlier this summer is still hurting and will perhaps for some time to come. But amidst the murky English conditions, Virat emerged as unarguably the best player of his generation. His batting was unparalleled and almost took us back to the 90’s when only Sachin used to be India’s talisman. He is already being touted as one of the all time greats. Gee, all of that at just 29 years of age.
As India set there sight on the 2019 World Cup and with just 14 ODIs remaining from the present moment, Virat has a lot to ponder upon. His batting has gone several notches above his compatriots, but his captaincy will be tested every single time as teams approach the last leg before the mega event. In December this year, Virat will again have his neck on the line as he takes upon a beleaguered Australian team. Whether that chance goes begging or it quantifies India’s fight away from home, will be answered in due course of time. But, till then let’s celebrate Virat the batsmen, the relentless run machine and the world’s biggest cricketing star. Let’s sit back, relax, enjoy the enigma and believe that he takes Indian cricket to its greatest height ever.