A couple of years ago, the late Martin Crowe, one of the shrewdest students of the game, did a bit of crystal gazing and proclaimed that Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson — all in the age group of 23 to 25 then — will be the stars of the future.
He believed that between the ages of 24 and 32, these "shooting stars", as he called them, would have teething problems, highs and lows and swings of fortune. The one who was destined to climb the ladder and become the best would have to learn quickly, he reckoned.
Crowe, who was coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore during the initial years of the IPL, before he lost his bout with cancer, is credited with many innovations in cricket, including being one of the earliest to conceptualise the T20 format. He also believed that the four — Kohli, Smith, Williamson and Root — had similar hunger, talent, ambition and responsibility, and when they reached peak form in a few years' time, it would trigger the real battle as to who would be the number one batsman in the world.
But going by the astounding exploits of Kohli over the past year, it would seem that he has stolen a march over the others and is the world's number one batsman.
This year, his T20 performances have been phenomenal (12 innings, 625 runs, average of 125, strike-rate 139.5, seven 50s with a highest score of 90 in internationals) and (20 innings, 1,166 runs, average of 106, strike-rate 141.8, two hundreds, 11 50s and a highest score of 108 in all T20s). He has had a similar impact in ODIs as well (5 innings, 381 runs, average 76.2, strike-rate 99.4, two tons, two 50s, and highest score of 117). Kohli is yet to play a Test this year, but had made 44 & 88 in the two innings of his last Test against South Africa in December 2015.
However, it has not been a bed of roses all along. The tour of England in 2014 was a harrowing one and decidedly the only blot in what has otherwise been a stupendous career. The England fast bowlers, James Anderson in particular, harassed him with late swing and ensured he came up short time and again. Kohli's scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6, 20 in the five Tests hardly did justice to his abilities.
Former England cricketer and commentator Geoffrey Boycott said Andreson ate Kohli for breakfast. "Every time Kohli came in, all he (Anderson) did was bowl at off stump, around the corridor of uncertainty and Kohli nicked it," Boycott said, observing that Kohli was playing too far away from his body.
Crowe, too, had issues with Kohli's footwork in that series. He said that despite his solid technique, which had no obvious weakness, his footwork against late swing was not decisive enough. He said that he was not getting his foot close enough to the ball to shut down the late moment.
Kohli, analysing his failure (a meagre average of 13.40), had also said that he had erred by not having a counter plan. "I stood in the same position and kept getting out the same way," he said.
In the next series, against Australia, he decided to stand outside the crease and also shift his batting guard to middle stump. He said that this, along with his shuffle to the off-stump, sorted out his problems and also enabled him to drive on the up. A century in each innings (115 & 141) in Adelaide and additional tons (169 & 147 in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively) gloriously vindicated the tweaking of his batting stance.
The most extraordinary aspect of Kohli's career is his breathtaking success in all formats of the game. No cricketing great has had such an impact across formats and this is all the more reason why his special talent ought to be celebrated.
He plunders bowling attacks in various formats with virtually the same repertoire of strokes. But what makes him special is the manner in which he adjusts stroke execution at the moment of impact. This enables him to smash the same delivery to any part of the off-side field or with an emphatic roll over of the wrist, send it crashing to the on-side. Even through this subtle manoeuvre, he has the choice of lofting the ball into the stands on sending it screaming along the ground past the mid-wicket fielder.
Kohli is not a powerful striker of the ball like Chris Gayle or Andre Russel. But he makes up for it with uncanny placements and quicksilver running between the wickets. In the match against Rising Pune Supergiants, one particular shot revealed his total mastery in exploiting gaps in the field. R Ashwin tried to draw him out with a wide delivery but Kohli hardly moved from his stance. He stood rock steady and then contemptuously lobbed the ball over the extra cover fielder and into the fence.
That night, during the media briefing, RPS leg-spinner Adam Zampa marveled that Kohli was batting like a machine and had special skills to time his innings to perfection.
Truly, with Kohli striding across batting arenas like the colossus he is, hapless bowlers are at their wits end to demystify this don of a new era.
Updated Date: May 10, 2016 10:37 AM