Virat Kohli: The Hero of New Age Cricket

Read an excerpt from a new book ‘Indian Cricket: Then and Now’

GN Bureau | November 14, 2023


#Sports   #Virat Kohli   #Cricket  
Virat Kohli receiving the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, 2018 from the then president, Shri Ram Nath Kovind (not in pic), at Rashtrapati Bhavan, on September 25, 2018.
Virat Kohli receiving the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, 2018 from the then president, Shri Ram Nath Kovind (not in pic), at Rashtrapati Bhavan, on September 25, 2018.

Indian Cricket: Then and Now
Edited by Venkat Sundaram
HarperSports/HarperCollins, 342 pages, Rs 599.00

Here is a book for those who love cricket, those people who not only follow the latest match on TV or mobile, but also recall the 1999 World Cup while watching the latest edition, or remember the scorecard of the 1983 final perfectly. Those who remain fascinated by the game through its various eras, from Pataudi’s time to Vishwanath’s, and from Gavaskar’s to Tendulkar’s.
 
In short, this book is a tribute to the beautiful game of cricket, played the India way. A collection of fifty informative and anecdotal articles by cricketers as well as leading writers on cricket, ‘Indian Cricket: Then and Now’ is a book that cricket aficionados of all ages will enjoy.

Starting with the very first Test match that India played in 1932, ‘Indian Cricket’ chronicles a remarkable journey, highlighting key moments in the country’s cricketing history over the last century or so: from the incredible Test wins in the 1970s and the thrilling World Cup wins of 1983 and 2011 to the emergence of the Indian Premier League, the evolution of women’s cricket, the development of world-class ground facilities and the appearance of the ‘superfit’ Indian cricketer.

Alongside, it celebrates some true cricketing legends: from C.K. Nayudu, Vijay Hazare, Vijay Merchant, Nari Contractor, Tiger Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar, Salim Durrani and the Spin Quartet to Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli.

The editor, Venkat Sundaram, is a former first-class cricketer who played in and captained the Delhi and North Zone teams. He has worn many hats: a commentator on television and radio, a manager of the Indian cricket team, a coach, and chairman of the BCCI Grounds and Wickets Committee. He has authored ‘The Cricket Coaching Handbook’ and edited ‘The Sardar of Spin’, an anthology of writings on Bishan Singh Bedi. The foreword to ‘Indian Cricket’ is penned by none other than Rahul Dravid.

With the latest World Cup winding down to the finale, here is an excerpt from the book, selections from a short essay on the man who amassed the maximum runs in the league stage and dominated the tournament like none else.

Virat Kohli: The Hero of New-Age Cricket

By Vijay Lokapally


Each era of Indian cricket has produced a hero to capture the nation’s imagination, from Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar to Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar. The present-day hero is Virat Kohli—an enigma for the opposition and a talisman for his team, one who carries with aplomb the enormous responsibility of motivating a generation of players.

Kohli was introduced to cricket when he tagged along with his brother to an academy near his home. The coach there was Rajkumar Sharma, who had no particular claims to fame at the time. Yet, when Kohli came under his tutelage, his world changed. Sharma noticed that the young Virat was comfortable playing and competing with older boys, which convinced him of the lad’s innate drive and ability. Sharma knew that he had been given the opportunity to work with a diamond in the rough.

Delhi cricket is known to ignore talent. Apart from Kohli, even the likes of Virender Sehwag and Rishabh Pant were initially ignored by the Delhi selectors when picking the junior teams. However, when they amassed runs in the local cricket circuit, the embarrassed selectors had no choice but to pick them.

Senior players in Delhi began frequenting the tournaments where Kohli played and sparkled as an aggressive batsman. There was a streak of brilliance in his play and he was making rapid progress. Critics began to say that he was destined for greater things. Chetan Chauhan recognized Kohli as a ‘precocious talent’.

Fortunately for Kohli, in the Delhi team he was playing with seniors such as Sehwag and Shikhar Dhawan, who encouraged and advised the prodigy. The same side had another future star in its ranks—the growth of Ishant Sharma coincided with Kohli’s progress. It was just a matter of time before Kohli made his first-class debut.

In a match against Karnataka, Kohli showed some of the determination he would become famous for. Batting with Puneet Bisht, the pair ended the day as the not-out batsmen as Delhi fought to avoid a follow-on. Kohli returned home to learn that his father had passed away. Yet, he returned the next day to continue his innings because of his team’s precarious situation. The Delhi dressing room was shocked to see Kohli pad up even though his father’s body lay at home. Kohli and Bisht saw Delhi past the follow-on mark. Kohli earned the respect of the opponents and his teammates with that tremendous knock, which showcased his tenacity and discipline. A hero was born that day at the Kotla.

During Kohli’s initial years in international cricket, he came across as a player who was in conflict with his approach to the game. He was naturally aggressive and always keen to establish early supremacy over the opposition. A busy man at the crease, Kohli found new ways to make runs. In the process, he also found new ways to get out. Critics did not appreciate his style and often slammed him for getting out to casual shots.

The 2014 tour of England was a shattering experience for Kohli. Despite having already scored six Test centuries in his career by the time he went on that tour, he struggled to adapt to the conditions and couldn’t even go past 40 in 10 innings. Knives came out and the doubters began to ask if Kohli was overrated. Was he merely a flat-track bully?

Thus, Kohli had a lot to prove when India toured Australia in 2014–15. The bounce that bowlers extract on Australian pitches compels the batsmen to adapt and adopt different strokes. Kohli did not have much experience playing the rising ball until that tour to Australia, which proved defining for his career.

It was a challenging phase for Indian cricket. The incumbent captain, M.S. Dhoni, had retired from Test cricket suddenly and captaincy had been thrust upon Kohli midway through the tour. The task was humungous as Kohli was saddled with a team in the process of transition. Living up to the high expectations and repaying the faith shown in him, he took his first steps towards becoming a great leader by scoring a century in each innings on Test captaincy debut.

Captaincy brought the best out of Kohli. It also made him realize that he was a role model in world cricket, bracketed with the likes of Kane Williamson and Joe Root as the batsmen for younger players to look up to. Kohli did not disappoint, even though at times it did impact his game. It seemed he was again at conflict with his natural desire to dominate, wondering if he should change his approach and eschew risks as he now held a position of responsibility. He struggled for a while but did not succumb to the inner demons that may have lured him into a false assessment of the situation.

At the time, Test cricket was in danger of dying out as the younger generations felt more connected to T20 cricket. The traditional form of the game sorely needed a champion, and Kohli emerged as the statesman that world cricket needed. He took it upon himself to become the advertisement for Test cricket by playing and captaining aggressively and always looking to win instead of playing out safe draws.

[…]

One Kohli knock that won’t be forgotten was in the game against Pakistan in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia. On Diwali eve at a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground, Kohli produced one of the greatest knocks in the history of the game. In a high-pressure match against India’s arch-rivals, he single-handedly powered his team to victory from a hopeless situation. Fans knew that the Kohli we had long celebrated was back. This was the born-again Virat Kohli, setting new benchmarks.

World cricket was enriched by the contributions of Indian heroes such as Pataudi, Gavaskar and Tendulkar. Virat Kohli then stepped up when Indian cricket needed a new hero, and his status among the legends of the game is secure.

[The excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publishers.]

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