In August 2008, a brash, young, over aggressive teenager made his debut for India. The guy had something special about him, but he was very raw in his attitude and application. He had the wind beneath his wings after captaining the under 19 side to a World Cup victory a year ago. He burst on to the scene with immense talent and a strong temperament which was perceived differently by different people who watched him on the field. Some took it as an aggressive and modern way of playing the game, and others saw it as immaturity, the reason which would lead to his eventual downfall after the big start. These were the people who were constantly watching every move of this man, just to pounce on him as soon as he failed, only to be disappointed. The talent was never doubted and as success came along, so did maturity, and the critics started to turn into fans.
Virat Kohli of today has gone through multiple changes in his personality, lifestyle, technique, and fitness to achieve the level of performance, consistency, and skill which make him arguably the best player in the world. When I say player, I mean, the best batsman across all formats, one of the fittest athletes in the world, a tremendous fielder, and an inspirational leader, who delivers and leads by example. This article is dedicated to the man that he is, so I’ll not discuss the competition he has for the ‘best in the world’ spot, his stats, and his detractors whose number he has been slashing down with each passing match. I’m sure we’ve all been hearing, discussing and reading a lot about his hunger for runs, dominance, consistency, style of play, since the last 3 years or so.
What we need to know is what has helped him to achieve all this, and how much effort has gone behind it. In 2012, Virat played a stupendous innings of 133 against Sri Lanka to win a match in emphatic style to keep India in the hunt for the final of the Tri-series in Australia. The highlight of the innings was the way he smashed Lasith Malinga, one of the best at that moment in the limited overs version of the game. That moment can be identified as the birth of the Virat who started on the path towards greatness. That wasn’t his first 100, or the first important innings, but it was one of those defining points which come in every great player’s career where he just takes off towards the path of greatness.
Over the years, Indian cricket has faced a tradition, where players who’ve achieved superstar status become too big for extra effort during practices. Players have been known to skip running sessions, and go directly to the nets for batting. After returning to India, in the off season of 2012, Virat Kohli lost 8-10 kg weight and became much fitter. In one of the post-match interviews he mentioned that he came back to India, saw himself in the mirror and said to himself, “that’s not how an international cricketer should look like”. This statement alone talks a lot about how he thinks about his performance, and his game. He started working extra hard on his fitness, started putting in extra miles, and looking after his diet. Thus came the visible change in his physique and stamina levels, which make him win matches for India by just running singles, and doubles. Recently, he scored a test double hundred against the visiting New Zealand side, where he scored only 40 percent of his runs in boundaries. Virat is usually among the first people to enter the field for practice, and last to leave. On multiple occasions he can be spotted taking close to hundred throw downs in the nets once the team practice is over. His enhanced stamina is the reason for all those big innings, which not only require physical fitness, but also mental concentration, another aspect that he has worked on very seriously. He is much calmer, focused, and yet equally expressive on the field of play. His once typical expressive language is replaced by smiles, and looks of gratitude towards the people who have helped him in the team, be it any fellow player, or the coaching staff. You can often see him being light headed during dull periods while fielding during test matches, joking around, being himself, acting his age, and not his seniority or rank, which is very important at times to keep other players connected with you, and be approachable.
Captaincy of the national test side seems to have instilled the feeling of responsibility in him which flows into his performances as well. His record as the test captain has been commendable till now, and as a batsman has been ever improving. He is one character who seems to thrive under pressure, and expectations, as if he draws strength from the pressure around him. If you have this never say die attitude in a captain, the team generally follows, and hence the results have been good for him. The only chink in his career as of now is his test average, which mind you, many batsman would die to have, but Virat’s standards are so high in other formats that we only expect the best from him.
The ongoing series against England is a good opportunity for the Indian team to show their mettle against one of the best test playing nations in the world. It is also an opportunity for Virat to once and for all show the people that he is actually one of the best players across all formats, that he has worked really hard on his test match batting after the miserable tour of England few years ago, which is like a blot on his cricketing resume. Very seldom does the Indian team get such long runs in test cricket, and they should be making the most of it. Interesting contest on the cards, a lot of pride to play for.
Let’s enjoy the Viratness of Virat!