Virat Kholi reacts after scoring 150 runs during the one day international Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at The Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka. AFP/Munir uz Zaman
After his sensational knock on Sunday, Virat Kohli has become the toast of the cricket world, neutral fans and even rival players like Kevin Pietersen joining in to rejoice with Indian supporters. The 23-year-old Delhi batsman, hailed for his class and temperament, could not have timed the innings any better.
If such a massive effort, in a must-win clash against arch-rivals Pakistan and while chasing, was not enough, Virat has single-handedly lifted the spirits of a nation agonising after the team's miserable second successive overseas campaign. To add to that, Sachin Tendulkar's much-awaited 100th international century against Bangladesh had also been drowned in defeat.
The youngster, whose aggression and confidence has infused fresh life into Indian cricket, has also marched ahead of the rest of the young bunch in a season where the main theme is transition.
Although Virat made a quiet start to his international career, his consistency in the build up to the World Cup ensured him a slot in the 11 even after the seniors returned. His hundreds against Australia in Visakhapatnam and New Zealand in Guwahati, and a good show in South Africa, sealed the spot.
By the time India played England at home last year, post their dismal show against the visitors on the road, Kohli had emerged as the mainstay in the absence of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh.
Although Virat was the best batsman on the forgettable tour Down Under, there was concern the appointment as vice-captain could weigh him down.
But the maiden century in the Adelaide Test, the hurricane knock in Hobart against Sri Lanka and two more centuries in the Asia Cup later, he looks the next big thing in Indian cricket.Virat came into his own after being reinstated in the middle-order for the home Test series against West Indies.
Change of guard
And the scenario has changed since Rahul Dravid's retirement. Following his match-winning 183, there were questions thrown at him how he would prepare for the No 3 slot in Tests. He ducked all that and said improving as a player everyday was more important. He showed on Sunday evening that he was not willing to throw away his wicket even after completing a century. And that he has graduated to the next level where he realises the importance of his wicket and can go on to finish matches.
"Brilliant knock," Sachin Tendulkar said, as he left to meet the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Former Pakistan skipper and spinner Intikhab Alam gushed: "The finest knock I have seen in an India-Pakistan match. He played every bowler with ease and that was the turning point of the match. Even after getting a century he stayed on and that showed tremendous maturity for a man in his early 20s. It is on a par with Saeed Anwar's knock in Chennai."
Anwar had struck a then world record 194 in 1997.
With India going through a transitional phase, Rohit Sharma getting runs on Sunday was not just important for the Mumbai batsman after a dismal show in Australia, but also for the future of Indian cricket. If Kohli is promoted to No 3 in Tests, Rohit will be fighting with the likes of Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara for his No. 6 spot. "I'm gradually coming back to form. It was a very important innings for me," Rohit said.
Like in case of Sharma, there were calls for dropping Raina following the Australia tour. But once back in the subcontinent, again being able to show he can dispatch good deliveries outside the ground, Raina has re-established his utility in the team.
If India don't play the final, there would be no further tests for Sharma or Raina. That would mean, Manoj Tiwary who has now extended his run on the bench to 11 consecutive matches, would have to continue that for the time being, unless an exceptional performance in forthcoming IPL.