It has been hard for Virat Kohli. On his 28-year old shoulders, he carries a responsibility. Add a hot head. Throw in a little aggression. A little sense of duty too that he has anointed himself with. And then, you have the perfect battle going on. The battle has perhaps taken a toll on how he responds to challenges. Slowly but surely, it has matured him. Like whiskey kept in wooden barrels. Checked everyday, but left to age. To become better. And that he has, for sure.
Virat Kohli is at the helm of affairs for Indian cricket after the golden team of much loved players have moved on. He is the in-charge of dreams that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S Laxman, Rahul Dravid et al showed us. The onus lies on Kohli to prove that cricket is still the religion it used to be as when the now-retired demi gods were present in the middle.
It is not to say that he is fighting a lone battle. Surely, the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Umesh Yadav, Ajinkya Rahane and others are there. Still this man is alone. Alone because he has come as the heir apparent of the regime. The pecking order of becoming the mainstay of Indian batting line up. And regimes are not changed overnight. Monarchs, even after they bequeath their thrones, continue tugging at the hearts of fans and followers alike. To say that dominance of Sachin Tendulkar lasted for better part of the 24 years that he played would not be an overstatement after all. Though the little master is now seldom seen on or near the cricket field, the essence of his strokes and cover drives, of the beauty-laden backfoot punches are yet to subside completely.
This Herculean task of weaning those ardent viewers back to game is no mean feat. The only thing going for Kohli is that it is cricket and has a sizeable viewership in India as it is. That however, does not reduce his accountability. Kohli will still be sought after as the pillar around which other players will gather and seek support from. Kohli will still be the one fresh youngsters getting drafted into the team will look up to. New bowlers will want to bowl at him. Those in the same team will want to have a go at him in the nets. Team meetings will get extended a bit the day he is in form. Strategies will be decided on how to contain him.
I am sure all these are being done even today. In times to come, these words and scrutiny will only increase. Clearly, things are not easy for him. Not easy because these are just the baggage that he has to carry since he is naturally talented and has cashed in on his talent. This is on the professional side of things.
On the personal side, his battle is rather unfair and uphill. There was a time when a 26-year old youngster, just 6 years into international cricket had to perform every time he went out onto the field. Because every time that he did not, a bunch of unruly fans broke all limits of decency and abused his girlfriend. They blamed her for his failures. That would have hurt much much more. When someone else who you love takes the fall for your shortcomings, it is bound to hurt. Ideally in such a scenario, it should have taken a toll on his performance. Thankfully, given his kevlar-esque attitude and outlook towards life and the game in general, it did not. The pressure on such a young player for something completely unrelated to his game is very rare. But Kohli aced this exam too.
The third and most important transformation that Kohli has undergone is how he approaches the game. The aggression is every bit still there. There are no second thoughts about it. These days he is this player who is calm, calculative and thoughtful. However, now and then the anger does leak onto his face. And it somehow subsides as easily. He does not let it affect himself, or the game. Kohli has perhaps learnt to channelize the anger, the uprising, the boil of the blood to power his game. Not many 28 year olds can do that. Not even 56 year olds can do that regularly. Yet, Kohli seems to be managing it all, taking all in his stride.
The fourth, and the most important thing that I like the most in him is how he leads by example. It does not matter whether he is the captain or not. He stays fit. He takes those singles, those twos where he is running to the danger end. Takes on the opposition and then evicts them out of the game like they were never in it. Wins single handedly and does it like its his duty, his calling. Kohli dares. Kohli wins.
As he turns another year older today, I can only wish for him to keep up with his scoring. Given the run machine that he has become, it would not be an exaggeration to say Sachin’s records are in some sort of danger. He could most likely break a couple of them. Then again he may not be able to. What is certain though is that he is most likely to become the next player for whom you would descend to the prayer room. Like Sachin, he is most suited to command his own army of ardent fans, of nervous faces watching him bat and break opponents’ backs with the delightful cover drives and the cheeky run downs to third man.
Here’s to Virat Kohli, the youngster who has, with his own will, turned himself into a gentleman. The gentleman that this game needs, the gentleman that the game seeks.
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