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Virat Kohli 2.0 - From raw talent to global statesman

India Today logo India Today 03-12-2016
© AP Photo

Cricketers from North India are often looked upon as a hot-headed but passionate bunch who have loads of talent and skill but don't shy away from an argument or two on the field. When Virat Kohli made his debut in 2008 he did not do anything different to change that perception.

Delhi ka munda Kohli was no different from fellow state teammate Gautam Gambhir, who became famous for two things - his batting and his short temper for nonsense from the opposition. Just like Gambhir, Kohli would also lose his cool at the drop of a hat and as a result, had his fare share of heated arguments with players from the opposition during a match. Losing match fees, getting reprimands from the match referee became a common thing.

Gambhir and Kohli even had an altercation between themselves during an IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders. While Gambhir is no longer a regular in the Indian team, Kohli has been given the mantle of captaincy in the longest format and the change in him is drastic.

Eight years into his international career and Kohli has become one of the most sought after cricketers, is a role model for youngsters and the whole nation prays for him to score big whenever he comes out to bat. Kohli has taken due note of this and lived up to the expectations so far by scoring loads of runs. As Test captain, he has overseen series wins for India over Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand. In the ongoing series against England, India have an unassailable lead after three of five Tests.

His image, especially since he took over the Test captaincy two years ago, has changed to a responsible young leader who plays hard, still gives it back to opposition whenever provoked but respects the opposition immensely. India's recent victory in the Mohali Test gave us the best example of how Kohli has evolved as a cricketer.

England had taken the lead over India in the second innings and were in the process of setting a target but they had just 3 wickets in their kitty. Young Haseeb Hameed was holding fort from one end and was the only batsman in that lineup who was fighting it out for his team and was putting a price on his wicket. The 19-year-old negotiated tough spells from Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav and batted with poise and authority to reach a half-century, his second of the series. England got bundled out for 236 with a lead of 103 as Hameed remained not out on 59. The right-hander was batting with a broken little finger on his left hand and even took a few blows on it but he didn't get bogged down by it and marched on.

Kohli was so impressed with what he saw from Hameed that during the innings break when the Indian team was walking off the field high-fiving each other for a splendid performance, it was only captain Kohli who went up to Hameed and patted the youngster on his back and congratulated him for a brilliant knock. Soon after the match ended, Kohli was seen spending some time with Hameed and even went on to say that he sees a future star in the English batsman.

Even his celebrations have changed over the last couple of years. Earlier when Kohli reached a milestone everybody would expect a few expletives or cuss words and he didn't disappoint. His passion for the game and hunger for scoring runs came out in his anger. All that is a thing of the past. A more mature and experienced Kohli now just raises his bat, acknowledges the crowd and looks up to seek blessings from the almighty and then gets on with the game like nothing happened.

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At 28, Kohli is inspiring a whole new generation of teenage cricketers with his cricketing prowess and run-scoring feats. Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur recently compared "young gun" Babar Azam to Kohli saying the 22-year-old reminded him of the India skipper at the same age.

"He (Azam) is a young gun who will be an exceptional player. I'll go so far as to say, at the same age, I reckon he's as good as Virat Kohli, which I know that's high praise but he's right up there," Arthur told Perth's 6PR radio.

Kohli's stature has grown, so much so, that he's being seen as a benchmark for youngsters. Aspiring cricketers want to bat like him, his opponents want to get him out as quickly as possible and coach's around the world want their pupils follow his example. Kohli is right now on top of the world.

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