Give me Virat — most captains would say that. "He would be my first choice in any format," declares Kapil Dev, who commanded respect of a similar degree. Virat Kohli, with every passing innings, is adding a lustrous chapter to his batting manual. The structuring of his cricket is a remarkable evolution worth a case study.
Is batting so easy? Kohli certainly gives that impression. In decimating Australia — it has become a habit now — he only confirmed his pedigree as a match-winner. He does not have to prove a point to anyone, but he challenges himself every time he is at the crease. He aspires to set new benchmarks, and is busy doing it now.
"I have not seen such batting," exclaims Virender Sehwag. This, coming from a batsman who gave bowlers nightmares. The dashing Sehwag never misses a moment of Kohli in the middle. "He is developing as a batsman for all seasons. The transformation has been amazing from the time he took over captaincy. It is just the beginning of an era,” he points out.
Is batting so ridiculously easy? Looking at Kohli, it seems so. "He is never hustled," notes his coach Raj Kumar Sharma. There is no reason for Kohli to be hurried into playing a false shot because he has enormous time to judge the ball and decide its fate. Have you noticed how there are so few appeals when he is on strike? Often, there are none because the ball only hits the middle of his bat.
Kohli makes a conscious effort to establish early control — an unambiguous approach — playing proper cricket shots even in T20Is. Anil Kumble just loves the way Kohli bats. "I am very impressed with his balance at the crease — both skill and mind. He's just not looking to play on the on-side but equally on the off-side too. That, to me, has been the difference in Virat's batting in the last two years or so."
Brat. Aggressive. Brusque. Temperamental... Kohli would smile off these misplaced impressions of misinformed critics. "Why should I worry about people who don't know me at all," has been his philosophy. Few people know that Kohli is prepared to listen, a quality he shares with Sachin Tendulkar. For someone who has played 200 Tests, Tendulkar would listen to even the newcomers in the side. Kohli, too, is always ready to embrace new ideas.
The legendary Mohinder Amarnath is profuse in his praise. "I always believed he was a leader because of his personality. He accepts a fight with spirit, and there is this unmistakable hunger to perform. He has never moved away from a challenge nor shied away when confronted. Virat brings assurance and maybe arrogance to the middle but then it is his confidence that stands out.
"Viv played normal cricketing shots; so does Virat. His fitness is also amazing. Virat takes little time to recover after running a three. He is fresh when facing the next ball," adds Amarnath.
Sehwag, who has observed Kohli's progress keenly, says, "he has introduced a lot to his off-side play. I remember he was predominantly an on-side batsman for a long time."
Kohli, in V.V.S. Laxman's view, is a "complete" batsman. "Controlled strokeplay, and not expansive indulgence, is what marks his batting,” says Laxman.
There is nothing outlandish in Kohli's range of shots. The bat is a scalpel and batting a science when he is at work. Manoeuvring the ball in the gaps comes naturally to him. And he has prepared himself to be where he is now, not just on the field but off it too — food habits, training and a punishing fitness regime.