2006. The year Virat Kohli made his first class debut for Delhi. The team had talented names like Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, Aakash Chopra and Vijay Dahiya –- to name but a few.
Being based out of Delhi at that time gave me the opportunity of covering all Ranji Trophy matches at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium - yes, for me it's still the same name, not the Arun Jaitley Stadium. Sorry if it offended some!
A familiar face at the stadium since there were not many reporters covering these matches, and Delhi players, especially young ones, appeared disposed to court me. What could have been a better way of gaining celebrity than befriending a reporter and expecting a few positive write-ups?!
Yours truly wrote one eulogy after another, often played up their performances, giving them more credit than they deserved. Loved my profession for that; thought it would be like that for the rest of my journalistic career; had no idea that stardom changes cricketers.
Anyway going back to the 2006-07 season... I would often get nods from these young players walking to and from the field. Kohli, yet to raise any real expectations as a cricketer, however, had a totally different approach towards me. Not once did he nod to me; not once did he seek any write-up favour. Used to attention from other players and hence on my high horse, I too refrained from taking the initiative and starting any discussion with him.
I was there when he decided to continue as an overnight batsman even though the previous evening had brought him bad tidings -- of his dad's passing. He went on to score 90 and helped the home team avoid the follow-on and eventually earn a draw against Karnataka.
Year 2019. Kohli has reached a stature which nobody could have predicted 13 years ago. Sachin Tendulkar, with whom he is often compared, was tremendously gifted, and no wonder he was the cynosure of all eyes right from the first day of his professional cricketing journey. Kohli, by any standards, was nowhere close to the genius of Tendulkar at the start of his career, so if anyone tells you they knew that Kohli will eventually be where he is today... either they are lying or they have the ability to see the future.
It won't be wrong to say -- much as I found him cocksure at the start of his career, and even to date -- that Kohli has created a new school of thought. The previous generations always set much store by a player's natural ability to score runs; play certain shots. And they were right in many ways as there weren't any real examples who reached great/unimaginable heights without having been blessed with natural talent.
Kohli changed all that.
He trained hard in the gym to lose fat, watched what he was eating and worked so much on his game that there is hardly any shot he doesn't have in his repertoire today. He has achieved so much in these years that reminding readers of his statistical achievements will be nothing but sheer facetiousness.
Kohli has evolved in all aspects of the game, not only as a batsman but as a leader too. While he still pumps his fist to show his joy at the falling of an opposition wicket or at scoring match-winning runs, he has matured admirably. Listening to him at press conferences and on other TV programmes is sheer delight and insightful… like you are listening to a cricket scientist.
At 31 years of age, Kohli has indeed come a long way. It often feels surreal when I remember he is the same young batsman with limitation from the winter of 2006.
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