Nishad Pai Vaidya/Cricketcountry
In five years at the international level, Virat Kohli has carved a niche for himself and stands-out from the rest. An ageing group of veterans left behind a lasting legacy, with the young Kohli being the torchbearer of the new era. He fought his demons, the critics who branded him a rebel, distractions that inhibit any cricketer to become India’s mainstay at the young age of 24. Though one is easily captivated by his swagger and off-field appeal, it is his undying desire to succeed on the field that makes Kohli the champion he is.
Winning the Arjuna Award is certainly a momentous occasion for Kohli. It puts him alongside many other Indian cricketers who have excelled on the field of play — whose efforts were recognised by the government. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan were the previous awardees from the cricketing arena. More than anything, this award is evidence of Kohli’s character and fight. Talent is one thing, but persistence and the determination to succeed is what separates the champions from the ordinary.
If one traces Kohli’s growth since he burst on to the scene in 2008 to the present day, one can see that he has matured at each stage. There may be the odd flares of temper, but he assures the fan some confidence that he is in control of the proceedings. Back in 2008, many felt he was this brash kid — living in the glory of his Under-19 World Cup victory and in danger of letting his illusions get the better of him. But, Kohli took control and committed himself to the path of success.
The true testament to Kohli’s character came way before he donned the India jersey. It is a moment that would continue to define him although it happened away from the watchful eyes of the public. In the middle of a Ranji Trophy match in 2006, he lost his father and yet was back the next day to bat for Delhi. Putting his emotional trauma behind, he fought his way to 90 before he was dismissed. Such was the power of the knock that the opposition too was moved. The young boy then left for his father’s funeral. But, a man was born! It was the first sign of a champion with nerves of steel.
In many ways, Kohli too is an iconic character in a country that is brimming with youth. Sachin Tendulkar is the ultimate Indian dream, MS Dhoni symbolises the hopes of the India away from metro cities, but Kohli is someone who appeals to the youth. Today, India’s young are changing and shedding the inhibitions that held the country back in the past. They are there to challenge the traditional notions and move along their own path. Doesn’t it sound all too familiar with Kohli on the field?
Kohli hasn’t been the typical Indian cricketer. There have been many in the past who have been unafraid to express themselves. But, there is more optimism and confidence in Kohli’s body language. Let us rewind to the 2011 World Cup final at Mumbai. At the fall of the great Tendulkar’s wicket, at his home-ground, Kohli walked into an arena of stunned silence. This writer was seated close to the Indian dressing room and watched him run down the stairs onto the turf. His body-language was unfazed, exuding confidence and signalling intent to take on the battle head on. He may have scored only 35, but they were worth their weight in gold.
When one has to pick some of the best moments of Kohli’s career, one tends to go for the innings against Sri Lanka at Hobart or the 183 against Pakistan. However, this writer would follow a tangent. It is quite a story that Kohli was at the other end when India’s two greatest batsmen in modern times big good-bye to the one-day game. Kohli batted with Rahul Dravid during the latter’s final ODI at Cardiff. A few months down the line, he was at the other end when Tendulkar played his last ODI innings in Dhaka. In a way, they had passed down the baton saying, “Here it is young man! Take Indian cricket forward.” Almost as if he was answering those calls instantly, he scored tons on both occasions.
When India were battling the transition and struggled in the last two years, Kohli was a class apart and enhanced his reputation. At one point, he seemed to be the Tendulkar of the 1990s — a figure on whom the entire unit depended to produce the result. But, now he seems to have able cohorts to take Indian cricket forward. Captaining the side in Zimbabwe was another step on his long road. This young man is already a champion, but greater things await him.
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