Alexander the Great, after beating a retreat from India, is said to have wept on the sands of Arabia, lamenting that he had no more worlds to conquer.
Virat Kohli, though, will face no such dilemma, at least in the near future. The master batsman who has asserted his authority on every opposition has only one more ‘final frontier’ to overrun.
Last month, West Indian legend Michael Holding said he’d wait till the conclusion of the tour of England before passing a judgment on Kohli. He won’t have to wait long; just five months.
Already there is ample evidence that the maestro is well on his way to becoming one of the game’s all-time greats. His hunger, passion, commitment, talent and domination of bowling attacks over these past few months have been nothing short of sensational. Equally impressive was his ability to pin-point reasons for his continued success.
“The talent I have is god-given. I cannot take it for granted. I strive to work hard, train hard and do everything required to do justice to that. I have another eight years of cricket left. I have to make that count for myself and my team,” he said at the post-match presentation following India’s emphatic eight-wicket win on Friday.
Unlike master blaster Vivian Richards, who brought a lazy elegance to the game and then languidly proceeded to demolish bowling attacks with unbelievable flourish, Kohli comes at the opposition like a one-man demolition army.
He is at their throats as soon as he steps onto the battle ground. The heightened tempo and rising apprehension is extremely apparent in the bowler, fielders and even the non-striker. For Kohli doesn’t settle down by just defending and biding his time. He does it by stealing singles and twos off almost every delivery. This ensures that he is not bogged down even as he tests the waters. His style of play is such that it leaves his partner no breathing time. He has to stay alert and on his toes all the time.
Thus most of Kohli’s runs, during the initial phase of his innings at least, come in aggressively run singles and twos. Once he settles down — he’d be closer to his 50 by then — he opens out with firmly struck strokes.
The South Africans, well aware of his method, and finding them disconcerting, attempted to disrupt his process by resorting to short-pitched bowling. If they thought these bouncers could lower Kohli’s intensity, they were in for a rude shock.
The champion batsman that he is, he too changed tack and laid it thick with horizontal bat strokes. Suddenly the cut, pull and hook shots were unleashed with amazing regularity. “They were trying something different to shake up things. I took it as an opportunity and a challenge to play other shots,” said Kohli.
Kohli’s incredible bat speed is central to his aggressive stroke play. In the twinkling of eye he could switch from a defensive prod to an aggressive stroke. There were a couple of instances on Friday when it looked like he’d defend against leg spinner Imran Tahir’s brisk, lower trajectory stuff. In the last second his bat would descend with astonishing speed to whip the ball and catch bowler and fielders off guard.
There were other instances when he’d plonk his front foot out and rather than be surprised by the pace bowlers’ short-pitched delivery, and would use his terrific bat speed to smash the ball to the mid-wicket fence.
These apart, it was the manner in which he kept his head textbook-style still, eyes wide open, left elbow pointing to the sky while punching pace and spin bowling alike, that made for mesmerising stuff. This surely was a master at work. So much so it moved one of India’s greatest ever cricketers, Sunil Gavaskar to repeatedly hail Kohli as “a genius”.
Yet maestros and geniuses still need scores to endorse their exalted standing in cricket. When it comes to statistics, Kohli’s numbers are straight away top-drawer stuff. His tally of 558 runs from six matches in this ODI series (129 n.o, 36, 75, 160 n.o, 46 n.o, 112) is a record feat. The 35th ton in 208 matches placed him second in the ODI ton-getters list. Only Sachin Tendulkar, 49 from 463 matches, is ahead of Kohli.
In short, Kohli’s intimidating batsmanship has evoked “shock and awe” in the South Africans. The last time any team was similarly affected by the very sight of a batsman was when a gum-chewing Richards swaggered onto the batting crease. Kohli has acquired that indomitable stature. Just ask the South Africans. They will vouch for it.