Thursday, December 28, 2017

India's Tour of South Africa 2018: From Bachelor to Groom, Virat Kohli Is Above the Rest

Kohli’s biggest test yet will come in the form of the marathon tour in South Africa starting from January. The tour will comprise of a 3-match test series, 6-match ODI series and a 3-match T20 series. With the just concluded series against Sri Lanka ending on a high, Kohli and his team will take this confidence going into one of the most difficult overseas assignments for subcontinental nations. The humongous task at hand can be gauged from the fact that India have never won a Test or ODI series in South Africa in 6 attempts. Before departing, Kohli stressed the importance of embracing the local culture in South Africa and had a few tips to share with India’s U-19 squad, who are heading to New Zealand for the World Cup.  

Inspiring his team to their ninth consecutive test series win after the draw against Sri Lanka in the third and final test at Delhi, before getting busy with his marriage commitments, Virat Kohli has etched his name into the history books as one of India’s most accomplished captains in a relatively short span of time. Kohli is the third most successful Indian captain in history with 20 victories from 32 matches. Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads the pack with 27 victories from 60 Tests as captain. Sourav Ganguly is second with 20 wins from 49 Tests as captain. Kohli has been in phenomenal nick this year in the longest format of the game, accumulating 1059 test runs from 10 matches including five centuries – three of them being double tons.

He also climbed to the No. 2 spot in the ICC Test rankings for batsmen in a remarkable season that saw him slam two back-to-back double centuries in the just concluded series against Sri Lanka. Unsurprisingly, he won the man-of-the-series award, courtesy a cumulative total of 610 runs with the bat. The weight of his achievements can be gauged from the fact that he currently holds the numero uno position in the ODI and T20I rankings. But, the records don’t just end there. In the course of the year, Kohli also overtook Brian Lara to hold the record for the most double hundreds scored by a Test captain. To put things into perspective, the only other Indians to score more than him are Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.

However, Kohli’s rich vein of form in test matches can be attributed to a change in his playing style and mental attitude. He is more carefree in his batting exploits, something which he has adopted quite recently. Kohli began 2017 on a high with an outstanding double century against Bangladesh but this was followed by quiet period where he struggled to find his much-vaunted poise. But the series against Sri Lanka has once again shifted attention to Kohli’s remarkable rise in stature, capped by his influence as the skipper. Many have been left wondering what has changed about Kohli in the past few months that merit a different perspective. Here are a few possible reasons:

On the Job Learning

If Kohli had decided to rest on his laurels, he may have had only a moderate impact on the team’s cause. However, there is something fascinating about the Indian skipper’s attitude towards the game. One often finds Kohli kicking himself when he gets dismissed in an unusual fashion or if he is unable to get his team past the finish line. But, one can be sure that these moments have become a rarity with his ability to dictate the course of the game and even emerge victorious against the opposition’ bowling plans. Kohli is a learner; he not only perfects his existing know-how but attempts to put it into practice. Most batsmen can almost immediately diagnose the reason for a certain flaw in their technique or hit the nets soon after a disappointing innings. But what makes Kohli stand out from the others is that he can guarantee success nine times out of ten owing to his grit and determination. He has shown the knack for piling up huge runs on the board but this comes from his acquired capability to test his limitations on the cricket field. He learns quickly, but he effectively practices it even quicker.

Pushing his Limits

Kohli relishes challenges and he always seems to be on the top of his game in such situations. Although it might simply boil down to his never-say-die attitude, Kohli also displays impeccable ability to raise his own playing standards. Every time he walks into bat, there is a sense that he prepares himself for the task with a renewed purpose. Kohli has often been lauded for his sheer cricketing skills, but this could be a lesson straight from the management books. His ability to deal with adverse situations with a completely untested game plan makes it difficult for the opposition to find a chink in his strategy. However, one aspect of his game which Kohli consistently employs with great gusto is the ability to stretch his boundaries when the task seems well and truly out of reach. Kohli resembles a chess player in the act, calculating every move and executing it with precision. But, if there has been a major take-away about his game from the last few months, it would undoubtedly be his burning desire to push harder even when the physical toll of the task can frighten mere mortals.

Humility and Greatness Go Hand in Hand

Everyone loves to attach a macho image to Kohli, both on and off the field. He is the most valuable Indian sportsperson by a mile. Not to forget he even pips Lionel Messi in brand endorsements. Kohli’ fitness and physique are the result of his unquestionable perseverance and hard work. While this has undoubtedly contributed to his new avatar, there has been a visible change in his demeanour in recent times. Kohli knows he that is hot property wherever he sets foot or that he can attract eyeballs for whatever he does. But, the dashing cricketer has now revealed the softer side of his personality. For instance, Kohli never misses an opportunity to seek help from former skipper MS Dhoni, who he has gone on to defend steadfastly whenever the media has been out to attack the latter. He admits that he needs guidance in the early stages of his captaincy career. Frankly, that is something which was hard to see in Dhoni’s transition as captain. He is also full of praise for his teammates and pointed out that Pujara’ batting approach is the model he follows to play the long innings. In an age where showing gratitude can be taken for granted, Kohli has never shied away from crediting Anushka Sharma, with whom he got married to recently, for standing by him through the toughest times. Kohli has surely offered a valuable lesson in humility and it is no surprise that greatness follows him around.

By Carl Jaison

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