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Virat Kolhi is here to stay. The sharp-tongued Delhi boy is proving he has a sharper mind and a blazing blade.
It was the eve of India's crucial World Cup match against the West Indies in Chennai. The team was under immense pressure, the players chose to stay indoors, but not Virat Kohli. The young man was dining in public with one of his female followers and the whisper going around the restaurant was: "Is this Virat's new girlfriend?" The man himself, too, would surely have heard bits and pieces of those murmurs, but it hardly bothered him. It was around this time that a young boy walked up to him and asked for an autograph. As Kohli obliged, the boy said: "Get another century tomorrow. "
Kohli was prompt: "I have a feeling I will. "
He may not have scored a century - instead got a well-made 59 - but that's Virat Kohli for you. Confident and arrogant (if ever there was a positive connotation to this, it is here) with a 'couldn't care less' attitude that has made him the new pin-up boy of Indian cricket. In addition to that, there's the obvious batting talent that has helped him climb the ladder of the Indian cricket hierarchy in just about no time. Eleven One-day centuries in 85 ODI games and Kohli has ensured he is no flash in the pan.
It wasn't too long ago when Kohli was considered the typically flamboyant teenager who had the world at his feet with a big IPL contract and the focus drifting just a bit from the job that he was primarily there for - to score runs.
"There are many people who just saw whatever I was doing was wrong. No one really considered the fact that I had lost someone really important in my life...I was only 17 or 18 then, and as a young kid you need your father to be guiding you and motivating you. But I lost him and it was a tragic moment for me, " Kohli once said, talking about the problems that he was going through.
It was in December 2006 that the strange rite of passage occurred. Kohli was playing a crucial Ranji Trophy game against Karnataka when his father passed away. He was the overnight batsman and no one expected him to turn up the next morning. "But to our surprise he came to the ground and batted. He, in fact, scored a crucial 90 in that game and that showed the steel in his character, " his former Delhi teammate Aakash Chopra says.
Kohli had made his Ranji debut a season earlier and what struck his teammates in the initial stages was his temperament. "I won't say he came across as somebody who is a definite India prospect. But he was extremely gutsy and could face a challenge head-on, " Chopra remembers, recalling the current India vice-captain's initial days on the domestic circuit.
Things started falling into place for the right-hander pretty quickly as he led the Indian team to the under-19 World Cup triumph in Kuala Lumpur in early 2008. The big, fat IPL contract followed, but things did go a bit haywire in the initial stages. Ray Jennings, the coach of the RCB team, was particularly unhappy with the way Kohli and some of the other young Indian players conducted themselves during the first IPL, as the high-profile team struck a real low.
But there was never any doubt about the boy's talent and he made his ODI debut in August 2008. The defining ODI knock, though, came sometime later when he batted with Gautam Gambhir at the Eden Gardens facing a huge Sri Lankan total and helped India coast to a win.
That was probably the start of a sequence that has earned him the tag of being a master chaser in the years that he has been in the team. Be it in the World Cup final or in Hobart or in Mirpur last week, Kohli has shown tremendous guts and determination during the chase of big scores, a feature hitherto so uncommon in Indian cricket. "I don't do anything different when I am chasing a big total. I just look to take one ball at a time and play according to the situation. I always believe that if I stay at the wicket, the runs will automatically come and that's what has happened till now, " Kohli explained his mind-set during those big chases.
But it's not just his One-day temperament that has prompted the selectors to make him the vice-captain of the Indian team. They believe that Kohli is a "future prospect who can be good in all forms of the game" and the right-hander has left glimpses of it in his eight-Test career till now.
After a poor start in the West Indies and England, Kohli came good in Australia where none of the other Indian batsmen could make much of an impression. The icing on the cake was obviously the century in the Adelaide Test against an attack which was constantly asking questions.
"Finally when I got the 100th run I was on cloud nine because starting your cricket as a young cricketer you always dream of achieving a Test century. The first one is always the most special... But I was under pressure because people are going to write things when you don't do well. I kept telling myself I have done really well in One-day cricket and that is international cricket as well. . . That is something I thought of every day and started really believing in myself once again, " Kohli said, immediately after he completed his first century.
But as he said, the Test ride was a rocky one initially. He went to West Indies as a World Cup hero and was expected to do well straight away. But there were phases when he was found wanting against the short ball and people did start asking questions.
"I wasn't sure of the exact mindset you should have going into a Test match. So I probably became too defensive. I started thinking about leaving and defending the short ball, something that I hadn't done in ODIs, and that's where the problem started. If you are looking to play the short ball and score off it, then it becomes easier to leave it as well, " Kohli said.
That was his changed mindset during the Australia series and it paid rich dividends, prompting Sourav Ganguly and other cricket pundits to observe that Kohli is the right man to replace Rahul Dravid in the No. 3 slot in the Indian Test line-up. But the man himself is not ready to jump the gun. "You cannot wake up one fine morning and say that you can bat as well as Dravid. It will be fantastic if I can be as good as him, but it will take time, " the matured Kohli came through.
All these have meant the Delhi boy is being considered as the next Indian captain, but Sunil Gavaskar feels that he has to control his emotions as a role model for his team. Every time Kohli completes a century or takes a brilliant catch, the camera pans on him and he is seen cursing at somebody. "Aap itna achha batting karte ho, par gaali kyun dete ho century ke baad?" a Pakistan journo asked him casually after his masterful 183 at Mirpur. Kohli looked a little embarrassed. "I am being honest, it's nothing personal... It just comes out of me as an outburst of emotion. Probably I should learn to be a little tactful, " he admitted later.
Even as Kohli sounds a little apologetic, there are others in the Pakistan camp who believe that Kohli should keep expressing himself if he feels that's the way he is most comfortable with.
"Javed (Miandad) was never apologetic about anything he did and he was quite brutal... I love Virat's body language and approach. He is a champion cricketer who can be really scary as an opposition and I would like him to stay the way he is, " Intikhab Alam, former Pakistani captain and coach and an astute spotter of young talent, said.
Kohli has to decide his own course and as the sun sets on Sachin Tendulkar, Indian cricket fans will hope that the Delhi boy doesn't lose his way so that they have a reason to wake up at four in the morning and switch their TV sets on when Team India's playing in some distant cricketing land.
VIRAT KOHLI, IN NUMBERS
Number of hundreds scored by Kohli in 82 innings in ODIs. It is the most by a batsman in as many innings. Ten of these hundreds have resulted in Indian wins.
Kohli is the only Indian batsman to manage back to back hundreds twice in ODIs - 118 against Australia at Visakhapatnam on Oct 20, 2010 & 105 against New Zealand at Guwahati on Nov 28, 2010 and 133 n. o. against Sri Lanka at Hobart on Feb 28, 2012 & 108 against Sri Lanka at Dhaka on Mar 13, 2012.
Kohli's runs' tally in a four-Test series in Australia 2011-12, including a hundred and a fifty, at an average of 37. 50. It is his career-best performance in a series, and he was the only Indian to reach this figure in the series.
Number of innings taken to reach 3, 000 runs in ODIs - the quickest by an Indian. It is the fourth fastest in ODI history, next only to 69 by Vivian Richards and 72 each by Gordon Greenidge and Gary Kirsten.
Kohli's average in successful chases in 32 innings in ODIs. His aggregate is 1, 825 runs at a strike rate of 91. 80, including seven hundreds and nine fifties. Only Mahendra Singh Dhoni, amongst the Indians, has a better average in successful chases - 1, 997 runs at an average of 105. 10 in 50 innings, including two hundreds and 14 fifties.
Unbeaten runs scored off 86 balls against Sri Lanka at Hobart on Feb 28, 2012 - the only century by an Indian in the 2011-12 Commonwealth Bank series in Australia.
Run aggregate accomplished by Kohli in 34 ODIs in 2011. At an average of 47. 62, including four hundreds and eight fifties, it is the highest by any ODI batsman in 2011.
Number of runs at an average of 53. 28 in eight matches, including a hundred and two fifties, in the 2011-12 Commonwealth Bank series - his highest-ever in an ODI tournament. His tally was the highest by an Indian batsman in the tournament.
Batting average recorded by him in winning causes - 2, 543 runs at a strike rate of 90. 46 in 50 ODIs. This average is the third highest amongst all batsmen with 2, 500 runs or more in wins - the highest being 78. 49 by Mahendra Singh Dhoni (4, 317 runs in 115 matches) and 65. 24 by Michael Bevan (4, 502 runs in 155).
Number of balls taken to reach his hundred against Sri Lanka (133 not out off 86 balls) at Hobart on Feb 28, 2012. The innings is his fastest and the fastest century by an Indian in ODIs in Australia.
Runs scored off 213 balls against Australia at Adelaide in Jan 2012 - his only Test hundred. He was the only Indian to post a ton in the four-Test series in Australia.
Run-aggregate in the just concluded Asia Cup - the highest by any batsman. He was the only batsman to register two hundreds and a fifty in the competition apart from averaging 100 (119. 00).
-Compiled by Rajesh Kumar
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