‘Intent’ could well be Virat Kohli’s middle name. He lives, breathes and endorses it with such intensity that it is magnificently evident in his batting, fielding, captaincy or even animatedly berating his teammates. Significantly, he walks the talk and no one, opposition or teammate, can grudge that.
Kohli is an extraordinarily high-energy cricketer. He is a constant bundle of motion even when he is simply standing in the slips. He throws his arms one way, then the other, often gesticulating or snarling to move a fielder one way or the other. All the time his eyes would be not just wide open, but seemingly focussed, though wild and burning.
In the context, Kohli’s knock of 153 — in statistical terms, 50 per cent of the total of 307 — was not just a masterclass in the art of batting, but a humongous exhibition of power, passion and intent.
Kohli withdrew into his shell or defended when the situation warranted. But when opportunity presented itself, he seized it with alacrity to repeatedly come out on top of the five-man South African attack. The opposition tried every trick in the book, from spin to pace to bouncers, yorkers, swing, wider deliveries, etc. before simply resigning to their fate. Kohli’s aura, passion and intent were that strong and unwavering on the day.
The skipper, of course, had repeatedly spoken of intent from the start of the tour. He believed that the team needed to show it and cajoled his players to bring it on.
His focus on intent is justified, for goal and action will follow intent. Goal is future-oriented and takes the player away from the present. However, in cricket, especially batting, living in the present is critical. Intent sets the process-oriented ball rolling and, importantly, aligns a player’s talent and strength with that of the team.
Kohli’s belief is that the fallout of intent (goal and action) will benefit the individual and team. The team may not be able to manage outcomes, which are dependent on factors outside their control, but they should be able to control process. Thus, if players could individually and collectively show intent, they could get to goals.
In this, one cannot help but go back to the days of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, who too showed great intent in their quest for excellence. Unfortunately, they could not align their individual intent to that of the team.
Dravid did go for it in 2004 in Multan when he shook Indian cricket out of its stupor by declaring the innings with Sachin Tendulkar batting on 194. Whatever might have been the fury at that point of time, it all disappeared when India registered their first ever Test win in Pakistan. The win vindicated Dravid’s unspoken statement of intent.
Likewise, Dravid had earlier prepared diligently for the South African tour where excessive bounce from the pitch and its pack of world class fast bowlers were expected to be a threat. Tendulkar too had shown great intent while preparing for champion leg spinner Shane Warne’s wares on India’s turning tracks.
Unfortunately their intent did not rub off on the team and overall results did not match the team’s potential.
It is here that Kohli’s quest to make intent the driving force of the team must be appreciated.
He is well aware that the Indian cricket team has traditionally been poor travellers. His asset is the bowling attack which is world class. But there is serious deficiency in the quality of fielding and batting.
He himself vies for the tag of world’s best batsman with Australian skipper Steve Smith. But unlike Tendulkar, who also has Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman batting alongside, Kohli has a decidedly inferior lot as support cast.
He has no confidence in Ajinkya Rahane, while Rohit Sharma and Sikhar Dhawan have been big disappointments. This is where he’d like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya to show intent, rather than stupidly get themselves out.
Kohli thus is more than the sum of his runs. His passion, intent, high energy, strokeplay, centuries, screeching, yelling, jumping, swearing is the complete package. If only he could inspire youngsters Rahul and Pandya to play with his intent, he’d have done Indian cricket a yeoman service.