New Delhi: In awe of Virat Kohli's meteoric rise, Indian Team Director Ravi Shastri today said the swashbuckling batsman seems like a mirror-image of West Indian great Viv Richards and "wields his willow like a fencer does to his sword."
"Some of his (Kohli) batting reminded me of Viv -- like the way the great man dominated all formats of the game he played. He is an in your face kind of batsman," Shastri told PTI as he analysed the present Indian team ahead of the World T20 at home next month.
The comparison cannot be too off the mark given that Richards himself has stated that he sees a bit of himself in the flamboyant Indian, a praise that Kohli finds surreal.
The right-hander sizzled with half centuries in all three T20 games, to go with two hundreds in the preceding ODIs. Shatri feels Kohli, combined with the equally devastating Rohit Sharma and the revived Shikhar Dhawan, make for the "best top three in the world".
The top three were the prime reason Australia were blanked and suffered a never-before low in their proud cricketing history and Shastri was willing to look at each of them individually.
"Shikhar has a license to be destructive at the top, that's the role he has, and once his chances came off, there was no stopping him. Rohit is all class: brilliant, explosive and his nonchalance is frightening. Virat just tears attacks to shreds, carves them to pieces. He wields his willow like a fencer does to his sword," Shastri explained.
Kohli has credited Shastri for his revival after the horrible England tour of 2014 summer. His propensity to nick everything on the off-stump was neutralised after he chose to take a middle-off guard, stand outside the crease and adjusted the width of his feet in stance.
"Those were really minor issues. The important thing is he was ready to give it a try," said Shastri, unwilling to dwell further on the subject.
Largely due to the trinity of Kohli, Dhawan and Sharma, India's rest of the batting went untested though critics still murmured whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni has outlived his role as a batsman and captain.
"Just one word to them, and I repeat myself: don't mess around with legends. Ask them to look for a word in dictionary: Respect. His contribution is second to none in Indian cricket," said Shastri in his inimitable style.
Shastri insisted the present Indian team is much more than just these individuals and there is a reason why it is the world's best team in Tests and T20s and second in ODI rankings.
"They play for each other's success and there's been a massive improvement in all three departments of the game. If I have to pick one aspect that's been most heartening then it got to be fielding in the last 14 months. It's a road less travelled in our cricketing past," stressed Shastri as he lauded the support staff for their roles.
The results have poured in in this stretch of time: England beaten at home for the first time since 1990; Sri Lanka bearded in their den after 23 years; South Africa's unbeaten decade-long record collapsing in a heap and now Australia stunned.
From a middling team in ICC rankings in 2014, India is now 1-1-2 in the three formats of the game.
Youngsters have come in and made an instant mark. The latest two have been Manish Pandey and Jaspreet Bumrah who carved their own space in the high-voltage series Down Under.
"Manish was remarkable. We were chasing a record score and Manish had lost his senior partners. He was at the dead end of it but kept his cool and courage. Bumrah might not be a coach's delight but he isn't easy to pick at all," remarked Shastri.
Though the top three left little for the rest to play with, Shastri viewed Hardik Pandya as a "livewire and an exciting one who could go places in times to come."
Shastri also didn't lose sight of seniors Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh who are a good insurance in the finishing overs.
"Raina is flamboyant and a match-winner. But I am really pleased for Yuvi. Those two hits would do wonders to his confidence. He is also more than useful as a bowler and adds variety to the attack."
The big derby next month is at home in the shape of T20 World Cup and Shastri emphasised a good start is essential for India's campaign.
"T20 could be a lottery. But how well we start would matter. Having said so, we are a strong team who could beat any side in any condition anywhere in the world."