HT profiles the 15 men handed the task to help India defend the title. First up, a look at what makes Virat Kohli — the team’s best batsman and driving force — tick
Zid, or self-will, has defined Virat Kohli since childhood, say his friends. It would bubble up often, on and off the field, be it getting his own back at someone who overtook him while driving, or someone who got him out early during practice at the West Delhi Cricket Academy where he began his cricket.
But the self-belief he showed while pulling off these retaliatory acts made it tolerable for all, even rivals.
Today they all hail him as ‘aggressive Kohli who cut the fiery Mitchell Johnson to size’. They also hope relentless aggression remains the mantra for India’s new Test captain.
Former India pacer, Sanjeev Sharma, who was chairman of the selection committee which made him captain of the World Cup winning U-19 team in 2008, recalls an incident from the Challenger One-day series in Indore in 2013, a couple of months before Kohli was anointed heir to the retiring Sachin Tendulkar.
Sharma was then the Delhi coach. As Kohli was an India player, he wanted to protect him by pushing him to No 4, just as the India team management is doing in the tri-series in Australia. But then zid came to the fore and he walked in at No 3, ready to take on Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Co.
NO SILENT SPECTATOR
Sharma doesn’t see anything wrong in Kohli’s overt aggression. “Usually Indian batsmen are silent performers. This is the first time a boy is giving it back, and winning the duel in Australia,” he says.
The angry words may be evident on TV, but they are not the ODI vice-captain’s only weapons. An even more effective tool is a cold stare. Try breaking Virat’s focus, even casually, and that stare will tell you to ‘keep off’.
He gives that silent treatment to rival bowlers, paparazzi, and even teammates; reputations don’t matter. Having unnerved his adversary, he turns to teammates grinning broadly, but is willing to administer another dose of aggression if he senses more threat.
It may be seen as impolite, but old friends like Vartik Tihara, his U-17 captain, describe it as clarity of perception, stemming from the fact that a star like him needs to avoid distractions.
“If something doesn’t suit him, he’ll want that off his back as soon as possible. The stare does that. People may perceive it as something wrong, but he needn’t respect their opinion. All he demands is the space to play cricket, which he has been passionate about since childhood.”
Coach-cum-mentor Raj Kumar Sharma says he opens up to very few. “But he’ll stretch himself for team mates, even pick up fights as he did in Australia.”
But controlled aggression has evolved from tears of frustration as a youngster. Often when success followed tears, it would be expressed by a swear word. Some even nicknamed him a cry baby.
THE EARLY SHOCK
The first agonising moment came very early. It was midnight and Kohli, barely into his teens, was seething in anger at home dialling every contact to confirm a piece of bad news. Thanks to the shenanigans of the Delhi cricket administrators, his name, considered a certainty in the sub-junior team for the inaugural North Zone Dhruv Pandove Trophy, was missing from the list.
Next morning, Kohli and Raj Kumar Sharma vented their frustration at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Kohli, Sharma recalls, burst into tears and it was former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi, then the Ranji team coach, who consoled him. Next year, the selectors picked him and Kohli responded with big centuries in U-15 cricket, and some say, a swear word each time.
Naresh Sharma ‘Tappu’, a member of the selection panel which ignored him, gives this explanation: “Hamein kya pataa tha wo Virat banega? (How were we to know he’ll become Virat)? Our selection was based on performances of those days.”
Though Kohli has never looked back, there were more agonising moments. Tihara recalls how he wept like a child after he was dismissed for one in an U-17 match at Gurgaon.
The tears stopped after his father’s death, says another friend.“There were failures, but he fought them well,” says coach Sharma.
He became a star overnight following the World U-19 title, lost his way in the first IPL season amid the party atmosphere of RCB, made his India debut only to be dropped and then making a comeback with four centuries in seven matches in the domestic One-dayers.
He broke the coteries in the Delhi team and inspired them to avoid relegation in the 2009-10 Ranji season, even opening the batting to help Delhi grab an all-important bonus point.
He still blows hot and cold sometimes, the misery in England followed by sublime batting in Australia. Tears to cold stare, aggression too is a work in progress. His fans will hope his iron will adds plenty of steel to India’s batting at the World Cup.