Awe. Sheer awe. That's the feeling that you would have if you have followed the progress of Virat Kohli in the past couple of years or so. Tests, ODIs, T20Is, Indian Premier League (IPL), you name it, and Kohli has been the king in all of them. India hasn't seen someone so dominant after Sachin Tendulkar, none who has drawn so much amazement. As Kohli has gone about piling on runs, people have fallen short of words of praise. Frankly, there had to come a time when you just run out of adjectives to describe his batting (and indeed his captaincy), and sit back and enjoy those fluent cover drives and those imperious flicks on the leg side, and indeed marvel at his inspired leadership.
With the win in the one-off Test against Bangladesh in Hyderabad earlier this month, India have extended their unbeaten run in Tests to 19 matches. A large part of the reason behind this fantastic streak under Kohli has been Kohli himself. Whether it is through his four double centuries in four consecutive series, or through leading by example, the Delhi batsman has taken his game and his team to a completely different level, one not far from what the legendary West Indian and Australian teams had taken themselves to. Kohli has been on a record-setting spree with his batting, and all that while, handling the captaincy of India, which his predecessors would readily tell you, is not exactly the easiest job in the world. However, what is striking is that he has not only handled it, he has done so with aplomb.
He hit a century in his very first innings as the captain of the Test side in the 2014-15 tour of Australia and followed it up with two more in the next two innings during that tour. Kohli, in the process, became the first Test captain in cricket history to score three centuries in his first three innings. He added another century in the fourth and final match of the series in Sydney, which capped a phenomenal tour Down Under for the Delhi batsman. A tally of 692 runs in four Tests, with four hundreds, a fifty and an average of 86.5 told us that we are witnessing a special talent.
That series really announced Kohli as an expert Test batsman, after the nightmare of the England tour immediately before it. Since that series Down Under, Kohli has scored 1,904 Test runs in 33 innings and particularly since the tour of West Indies last year, he has been virtually unstoppable and currently holds the highest batting average among all Indian captains in Tests.
The tour of the Caribbean saw him become the first Indian captain to score a double century overseas with a delectable 200 off 283 balls. That innings broke Mohammad Azharuddin's 26-year record of the highest score by an Indian captain in an away Test.
Another double century followed in the next series, this time against New Zealand, and he started the home season in right earnest. In the England series, he carried on the good form, aggregating 655 runs in eight innings, which included yet another double century and a marvellous 167, both in winning causes.
However, a mention should also be made of the 129-ball workman-like unbeaten 49 in the first match of that series in Rajkot to save the Test. That innings ensured that England didn't get an early advantage in the series, and the beauty of it was how he shelved his attacking instincts to play an innings, brimming with patience when that was precisely the need of the hour. “That (innings) gave me more satisfaction as a batsman than scoring a hundred or getting a big score. Taking up challenges is something that always feels nice when you achieve it. As I said, it was an opportunity for me to learn as well and that’s something that I learnt about myself,” Kohli said after Rajkot Test.
It took your mind back to the 51-ball 49 he played in the Asia Cup against Pakistan earlier in the year with the team in dire straits on a spiteful pitch in Mirpur. Those two knocks proved that Kohli was not all about slam bang strokeplay, he can also be a grafter when required, and that ability to adjust is what separates the grain from the chaff. That is the characteristic of a great batsman.
What makes Kohli special is also the extent that he goes to excel, always trying to learn, always trying to improve. What is the secret for his phenomenal success? In an interview with former England captain Michael Vaughan after the second Test of the series against England in Visakhapatnam in November last year, Kohli revealed how he metamorphosised into the super-fit cricketer that he is today, who scores runs with an almost machine-like regularity.
"My training was horrible, I ate so bad, I was up until late, I was having a drink or two regularly. It was a horrible mindset... It was 11 or 12 kgs heavier than I am now, I was really chubby. I changed everything from the next morning from what I eat to how I train. I was in the gym for an hour-and-a-half every day. Working really hard, off gluten, off wheat, no cold drinks, no desserts, nothing. It was tough. For the first two months I felt I wanted to eat the bed sheet when I went to sleep because I was so hungry. I was craving taste. I was craving delicious food. But then I saw the results," said Kohli.
Such incredible commitment and dedication had to be rewarded and it was. Today his brand value has soared to $92 million, according to an October 2016 report on India's most valued celebrity brands by global valuation and corporate finance advisory firm Duff & Phelps. However, he has not allowed this success and stardom to go to his head, and hasn't wavered from his path. Much like Tendulkar, this has been another outstanding quality of Kohli.
Among all this, one can't forget his captaincy that has grown and improved with every passing series, and he has always been a players' captain, backing them to the hilt. Thus when Ishant Sharma had a spat with Dhammika Prasad and few of the other Sri Lankans during a tour to the Emerald Isle in 2015, Kohli backed him, saying, "An angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight." Young leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal also credited Kohli for giving him the confidence to bowl freely after destroying England with figures of 6/25 in the third T20I in Bengaluru earlier this year.
What one expects from Kohli in the upcoming series against Australia is more runs and more records. Former Australian batsman Michael Hussey has said that Kohli will be Australia's "public enemy number one" in the upcoming series, but has advised Steve Smith and Co against sledging the Indian captain. “I wouldn’t try and fire him up. I think he thrives on that and he’s a real competitor. He loves being in the fight and loves the contest out in the middle,” Hussey was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
Hussey's words show the Australians are already jittery at the prospect of facing Kohli, who will aim at a repeat of his show against the same opposition in 2014-15. His imperious form and home conditions give India a distinct edge against the Australians.
Significantly, it is against the Australians that he has scored the most number of runs – 1,276 in 12 matches – with a very healthy average of a touch over 60. The Indian captain faces the Australians again with an opportunity to stamp his authority. Steve Smith and Co will need a miracle to stop India's run machine.