The Man with the Midas Touch
Virat Kohli has hit a purple patch that belies all expectations
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
Despite Being in the form of his life, Virat Kohli once again failed to finish a major tournament on a winning note. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) defeated Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) by eight runs to win the Indian Premier League at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Rated as one of the best chasers of the modern era, Kohli once again had to be content with the Most Valuable Player award. This is the third time he has received this award in a high-stakes tournament.
It first happened at the T20 World Cup in 2014, when India lost the finals against Sri Lanka. Kohli was declared the Player of the Series, as he had scored 319 runs in six innings at an average of 106.33 and a strike rate of 129.14. In the T20 World Cup 2016, India’s marauding run was halted by the West Indies in the semis. Once again it was Kohli who scored the bulk of the runs: 273 runs in five outings with a whopping average of 136.50 and a phenomenal strike rate of 146.77. With this, Kohli became the only player to be awarded Player of the Tournament in two successive World Cups. In the recently concluded IPL 9, Kohli ended up scoring a mammoth 973 runs in 16 innings at an average of 81.08 and a strike rate of 152.03. In the process, he faced 640 balls to hit 38 sixes (the highest number of sixes hit by a player so far in a single edition of the tournament) and 83 fours, ending up with four centuries(the first man to score four tons in a T20 tournament) and seven fifties. He also surpassed Suresh Raina to become the highest IPL run-getter of all time.
What makes Virat tick?
Kohli has been the most consistent scorer for the Indian team over the last five years. Time and again he has rescued the team from the jaws of defeat. It’s something he does with astounding consistency. The sheer determination to perform in every match keeps him a cut above the rest. Unlike the big hitters of the game, Kohli is not reckless, despite an arsenal of maverick shots. He is a sedate starter who believes in playing textbook shots in the initial phase of his innings. His batting approach is quite orthodox in that sense; he middles the ball with perfection, cuts and finds gaps between fielders with consummate ease. His swat flick in the region between midwicket and long on can beat the best fielders in the outfield. Apart from the swat flick and cut, his cover drive adds a certain elegance to his batting. The bullet train-like drive in between the cover and the extra cover region is a treat to watch and makes him a complete player who can hit shots all
around the park.
Kohli’s hunger for runs is not a new thing. He hit three fifties in the T20 series in Australia, countered Mohammad Amir’s swinging deliveries with panache on a green top wicket in the Asia Cup, and went on to become the top scorer in the T20 World Cup. His run of form in T20s this year has been unbelievable, to say the least. Even the all-powerful superheroes of the Marvel and DC universes have to occasionally face a bad day in office, but this man never fails to score. His run tally in 28 T20 matches in 2016 is 1,598 (90*, 59*, 50, 7, 49, 56*, 41*, 23, 55*, 24, 82*, 89*, 75, 79, 33, 80, 100*, 14, 52, 108*, 20, 7, 109, 75*, 113, 54*, 0, 54) at an average of 94. Kohli is the fastest in the world to reach 7000 runs in ODIs, to hit 25 centuries in ODIs, to reach 1000 runs in T20s. He is also the first cricketer to score three centuries in his first three innings as Test captain. Some day in the near future, fans and experts alike would have to coin neologisms to describe Kohli’s insatiable appetite
Eat, train, sleep, repeat is how he describes his method. “If you want to be consistent, you need to be boring with your training, your food and your batting habits. You cannot take the sport for granted,” is how Kohli explains the purple patch.
Calm yet super aggressive
The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it. After all, success is a double-edged sword. Whatever you do or say becomes breaking news instantly. Kohli’s aggressive style of countering the opposition has sometimes been positively unseemly. It isn’t unfair to say that Kohli has sometimes been needlessly bellicose, be it the infamous ‘fingergate’ where he flipped his middle finger at a group of hecklers at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2012 or the ugly spats with Gautam Gambhir. His on-field verbal argument with the Australian players in the 2015 Test series was definitely not in the spirit of the gentleman’s game. Worse still was his insufferably arrogant statement after Team India’s exit from the 2015 World Cup semifinal that no one had won more matches than him in the last five years.
After his rumoured break-up with Anushka Sharma, a drastic change has been witnessed in his attitude. Of late he has been working a lot on image building. The recent interviews, post-match press conferences, and on-field behaviour suggest a changed Kohli. Perhaps the rites of passage have been completed, but the fact is that old habits die hard. Recently, Kohli was seen arguing with the fourth umpire around the dugout area, when the on- field umpire gave Stuart Binny out at a crucial juncture in the qualifier match against the Gujarat Lions. His actions were reminiscent of the petulant Preity Zinta who has been known to pull similar stunts.
Comparison with Sachin
As he has stated in press conferences, Kohli feels quite embarrassed when compared to his mentor and idol, Sachin Tendulkar, but that is not the end of the debate. Comparing new-generation players to legends of yesteryear has been a never-ending debate which is always in the news after every match -winning innings. If current form is anything to go by, Kohli will probably surpass Tendulkar’s milestones. Going by the frequency with which he scores centuries in ODIs, the Delhi dasher is currently quite ahead of Tendulkar. At the same time it would not be harsh to say that Kohli has truly mastered the art of exploiting the loopholes of modern cricket, which has totally shifted in the batsman’s favour. The restrictions imposed by the power play rule in limited-overs cricket has majorly contributed to gargantuan 350-plus scores. Currently, after the completion of the mandatory power play, only four fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle between overs 11 and 40, and five in the final 10 overs. From 1992 to 2012, during non-power play overs a total of five fielders were allowed outside the circle. This means that now only four players are present to protect the boundary in the bulk of the overs, which makes scoring quite easy in the middle overs. The absence of bowler-friendly pitches in limited-overs cricket makes the situation suitable for the batsmen.
The decline of quality fast bowlers is also one of the probable reasons behind the rise of modern-day batsmen and the resultant upsurge in their scoring abilities. In the Tendulkar vs Gavaskar debate, Gavaskar can be lauded for playing the dangerous West Indian pace battery, along with Australian and English fast bowlers on fast wickets. Tendulkar too faced his share of fearsome bowlers and he played against the likes of Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Wasim Akram, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Waqar Younis, Glenn McGrath, Alan Donald, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Dale Steyn in testing situations. Kohli is yet to face a fast bowler in his prime. He has countered the likes of ageing bowlers like Steyn and James Anderson but, apart from Mohammad Amir, there is no other bowler who can test Kohli’s mettle.
A future LEGEND?
Ravi Shastri, former team director, veteran cricketer and the world’s most dreary commentator, has already endorsed Kohli for captaincy in all three formats of the game. Sourav Ganguly, too, justified his support for Kohli wondering whether Dhoni will last until the next World Cup. Kohli single-handedly led RCB into the finals of IPL 9 after the team, having lost six matches, was on the brink of a humiliating exit. David Warner, the winning skipper of SRH, lauded Kohli for his outstanding leadership and sensational form and also went on to declare that India’s future is safe in Kohli’s hands. Ever since he took over the Test team captaincy from Dhoni, he has come a long way as a leader. Perhaps Kohli has truly come of age.