Celebrated cricket journalist Peter Roebuck once said about Sachin Tendulkar: "On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt at one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Sachin was nearing a century, batting on 98. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sachin to complete the century. This genius can stop time in India!"
With Tendulkar having retired, if anybody can still stop time in India today, it has to be Virat Kohli. He can make your jaw drop with a slam bang 86-ball unbeaten 133 against Sri Lanka in a ODI at Hobart, helping India chase down a mammoth 321 in under 40 overs to stay alive in the tournament.
He can lock away the imperiousness when the situation demands and play a cultured 51-ball 49 to extricate his side out of the woods against arch-rivals Pakistan in the Asia Cup T20. And when he scores two Test double centuries in close proximity to one another, you know for sure that the man is a worthy successor of Tendulkar.
Kohli is without a shadow of doubt the pre-eminent batsman in the Indian line-up, one around which the entire batting revolves, and the opposition's most prized scalp, much the same way it was with Tendulkar. Kohli is one of the pillars of the Indian middle order, along with Ajinkya Rahane, and has not put a foot wrong this year, across formats.
He continued his sparkling form with a double century in his previous Test, against New Zealand at Indore. It was his first three-figure score in a home Test in over three years, and is a clear warning to Alastair Cook and his men that he is in good form.
Much is being said about the spectre of Ravichandran Ashwin looming on the Englishmen, especially after they had been tied in knots by the Bangladeshi spinners. If Kohli also turns up for the party, England would be running for cover.
Kohli had taken to captaincy like a fish takes to water, and what's more, captaincy hasn't interfered with his batting. He started with a bang, scoring three centuries in his first three innings as captain, becoming the first Test captain to do so. A special mention has to be made of how he almost chased down the target of 364 set by Australia with a magnificent 141 in his very first match as captain in 2014.
Earlier this year, he became the first Indian captain to score a double century overseas with a delightful 200 off 283 balls against the West Indies. That innings also broke Mohammad Azharuddin's 26-year record of the highest score by an Indian captain in an away Test. And when he scored a career-best 211 against New Zealand at Indore last month, Kohli became the only Indian captain to hit two double hundreds in Tests.
Kohli also has the highest batting average among all Indian captains in Tests.
Apart from his artistry with the willow, what Kohli brings to the table is a brand of fearless cricket, that he has been able to inspire his side to play. He has led by example, giving it back to Mitchell Johnson when the Australian pacer tried to get under his skin during India's tour Down Under in 2014-15. He is in fact the sort of person who would not mind getting into a banter with the opposition, trying to soften them up mentally.
Kohli firmly stood behind Ishant Sharma when the pacer had a run-in with Dhammika Prasad and Dinesh Chandimal during the third Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo last year.
“I was very happy with the incident (argument with Prasad) when he was batting. It happened at the right time for us because we had to bowl on Monday and they made him angry... An angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight," Kohli said about Ishant's altercation with the Sri Lankan players. Ishant took eight wickets in that match to fashion a historic Test series win for India in Sri Lanka after 22 years. The victory was all the more sweet as Kohli's side had gone one-down after the first Test at Galle.
Since then, Kohli has led India to 3-0 series wins over South Africa and New Zealand at home and a 2-0 win over the West Indies away. He has led India in 17 matches so far, winning as many as 10 and losing only two. That's a staggering win percentage, and shows clearly that under Kohli, India plays to win.
Indeed the growth of Kohli the captain has been as intriguing as his growth as a batsman. He doesn't have fond memories of captaining in ODIs in MS Dhoni's absence, when India toured the West Indies in 2013.
"I realised that managing eleven internationals is a lot different from dealing with seven domestic players and four internationals, as in the IPL. Also, you are playing against eleven internationals and you can't afford to give them too many chances. I know I should maintain my calm and composure, and not be as expressive as I used to be when I was just a player," Kohli said.
But now, he looks to be in his element leading the side and can take the Indian team to heights that it has never gone before.
The upcoming series against England will be important for Kohli from an individual perspective as well. By his exalted standards, Kohli had a modest home series against England in 2012, with no fifty and only one century, that too in the last match when the series could not have been won (as England had already taken a 2-1 lead in the four-match series).
The away series in 2014 was even more forgettable. He managed a mere 134 runs in five Tests, with a highest of 39. England have been Kohli's nemesis much the same way they have given Gautam Gambhir a hard time. Kohli has 322 runs in 17 innings against England and his average against the side is the lowest against any team except Bangladesh (but then Kohli has played just one innings against the team from the neighbouring country). His strike rate against England is an unacceptable 39.12, again the lowest against any opposition.
India's star batsman and captain will look to redeem himself with a solid performance against Alastair Cook's men. But if England manages to get the better of Kohli, India's chances in the series will be severely dented.
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