Virat Kohli: The lad from Delhi whose making it count

  • Khurram Habib, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 01, 2015 18:13 IST

Virat Kohli’s elevation as India skipper and his verbal clashes with Mitchell Johnson are causing ripples everywhere, but at the Ferozeshah Kotla, home of Delhi cricket, it doesn’t twitch an eyebrow. Those at Kohli’s home ground know this stuff too well.

Around this time five years ago Kohli, just 10 ODIs up his sleeve, was chosen to lead a languishing Delhi in the middle of the Ranji season, amidst controversy and some heartburn that led to the departure of the then skipper. There was one thing he made clear to everyone, including the coach --- there was going to be only one boss and he won’t hesitate to take on anyone, inside the dressing room or out on the field.

There are stories of the young kid from the not-so-powerful West Delhi Cricket Academy coming in and shaking up accepted norms and power equations in the Delhi dressing room that had a few internationals, seniors and coteries.

Reputations didn’t matter to him then, as they don’t these days.

His confidence was infectious as Delhi, having grovelled for the first part of that season, pulled off wins to stay afloat and avoid relegation. He hammered 88 as Delhi beat Saurashtra and then took guard first, along with another middleorder batsman Mithun Manhas, chasing down 112 without loss to earn a bonus point.

Kohli returned to international duty soon after, but he’d unleashed a storm. “We needed someone aggressive as Aakash Chopra, the then skipper, was going through a rough patch. Virat fitted the bill,” recalls Hari Gidwani, a member of the selection committee which endorsed Kohli’s captaincy.

While India's previous Test captains could bank on a lot of veterans in the dressing room, Virat Kohli takes charge of a relatively inexperienced side. (HT Photo)

What gave the selectors assurance was a knock from his debut season, 2006-07. He had gone home unbeaten in a Ranji game and his father passed away in the night. A call from coach Rajkumar Sharma cleared the doubts and he returned to Kotla the next morning in tears, as his father’s body lay at home, scoring an impressive fifty.

Puneet Bisht, his partner that day, told HT, “Everytime he hit a good shot, I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t have said ‘well done’.”

Chetan Chauhan, the chairman of the then selection panel said, “You surely can’t ask for more commitment. That’s why we picked him.

“Responsibility and taking the challenge head on has been a part of Virat’s life,” says coach Sharma, the only man he is scared of.

That one instance changed his perception of life. His close friends say he knew he had to be the man of the house and shoulder responsibilities with elder brother Vikas. “It was like “it was dad’s job to buy things for the house. Now, we have to do it”,” recalls a friend.

Soon after that tragedy, he achieved his initial stardom by winning the U-19 World Cup in 2008. Former international Sanjeev Sharma, whose panel picked that World Cup squad, says, “In an U-19 zonal one-dayer against South Zone, North needed 140-150 runs with just four wickets in hand. I called to speak to him as North Zone selector. He told me, ‘don’t worry, we’re going to win this’. He delivered, making a 150.”

Rajkumar Sharma is a proud coach. “He is a born leader. He would lead my academy team, and whenever we were in a soup, he would even take the ball and roll his arm over. He was always chattering on the field, in the thick of action. That’s the way he has been.”

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