Even old timers who are biased towards their own generation and always speak of how 'great' former cricketers were compared to the 'puny' moderns will I am sure agree that Virat Kohli is a special talent, one who with the passage of the years will join the ranks of the all time greats.
Kohli’s hundred in the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh on Wednesday was just the latest example of his sublime batting skills, his incredible mental strength and his ability to perform under pressure. Just consider the situation when he walked in. India were facing a tricky target of 280 against a team which for all their weaknesses in the game’s traditional format is a pretty handy side when it comes to limited over cricket.
In particular, at home, Bangladesh are a difficult side to beat. Kohli came in when Shikhar Dhawan was out at 50 in the 12th over. He had barely adjusted to the lights when Rohit Sharma fell in the next over. As Ajinkya Rahane joined him at 54 for two, it must have crossed Kohli’s mind that there was no Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni in the middle order.
There was only Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Kartik to follow among the specialist batsmen, the asking rate was six an over and Bangladesh were cock-a-hoop having taken two wickets in successive overs.
Kohli of course is no stranger to pressure situations. He has frequently scripted some astonishing run chases, quite often with a hundred. However this time he was the captain. Would the responsibilities of being the skipper affect him and curb his natural stroke play was the all important question. But the Indian cricket fan needn’t have worried for Kohli is made of sterner stuff.
Indeed Kohli thrives on challenges and, with Rahane playing an admirable supporting role, he first proceeded to extricate his team from a difficult situation with his own inimitable style. His batting approach is an ideal blend of attack and defence and that is what makes Kohli one of the outstanding batsmen in the contemporary game.
Ere long the match had ceased to be a contest as Kohli took charge and well before the end only the margin of India’s victory and in which over the winning run would be hit was being discussed. That’s Kohli, the match winner, for you.
Kohli’s biggest asset is his temperament. He is least overawed by a bowler’s reputation or the precarious position his side is in. He plays his strokes freely – even with gay abandon – befitting someone who is confidence personified. Particularly in ODIs, he is in a league of his own as his performances, his average and strike rate illustrate. He has equalled or surpassed records standing in the name of giants and legends of the game.
To put it succinctly, Kohli has everything to make it really big even in the highly competitive world of international cricket. He has all the strokes with plenty of time to play them, a rock solid defence based on a sound technique, a hunger for success, an insatiable appetite for big scores and above all an ideally competitive temperament.
Indeed Kohli typifies the aggressive and fearless modern day young cricketer. He wears his passion on his sleeve though he can certainly do without the invectives he utters now and then. His hot headedness has got him into trouble with those in authority though there are happy indications that he is curbing his temper without compromising on his aggression.
Bat in hand, Kohli displays wondrous skills. His hitting is bold and vigorous and he also plays cultured strokes all round the wicket. He relishes a challenge and is at his best when the pressure is on. Add to all this his amazing fielding skills and you have arguably the most exciting young cricketer in the international game.
Unlike other Indian batsmen who are labelled as flat track bullies or the sort who score handsomely at home only to be exposed abroad, Kohli has got runs and hundreds everywhere. His Test record is improving all the time and with six hundreds – three of them away - in 24 Tests and an average of 46.5 one can be sure that it is only a matter of time before this touches the half century mark even as the century – Test ratio keeps getting better.
He has the game to succeed at the highest level in both formats but it is his batting in ODIs that really takes one’s breath away. After all, a record of 19 hundreds in 124 innings and an average of 52.65 coupled with a strike rate of 90 is something beyond the scope of any other contemporary batsman and fit to be put alongside any of the game’s greats in the 43-year old history of ODIs.
The frightening thing from the bowlers and opposition skipper’s viewpoint is that Kohli is still only 25. If he could keep his feet firmly planted on Mother Earth, does not allow success to go to his head and curb his temper without compromising on his natural agro, then the world is his oyster.
After all, Kohli is not the kind to rest on his laurels. Even after tasting considerable success at an early age, he is still hungry for greener pastures and is always on the look-out for new peaks to conquer. He is one to go places and can safely be marked as a future all time great.