What makes Virat Kohli stand out in the crowd is his intensely focused, fiery eyes that may suggest a man seeking out a goal he has already sighted.
In fact, intensity and a burning desire to succeed are the words which come to mind the moment one sees him on the cricket field. It is like watching a volcano ready to erupt anytime and create havoc around him that would be impossible to repair.
For a youngster bustling with an energy that can be infectious, inspiring, yet destructive, Kohli is no physical giant. Among the modern-day batsmen, majority of who are muscular hulks, Kohli in comparison could be even termed puny. At three inches short of six feet and despite a taut, muscular frame, Kohli does not tower over his contemporaries. Strip him of his manifest aggression and brash, in-your-face attitude, and he could well pass off as a youngster who every parent would love to own.
A few years back, at a time when he was displaying what appeared to be brashness mixed with arrogance on the cricket field, as a badge of honour, Kohli was at a function interacting with an audience who would hate to be seen as ill-mannered in public. His measured, well-thought out and intelligent answers turned everyone present there into admirers. For a young man in his early twenties, Kohli’s maturity of mind, sharp wit and respectful tone just did not go with his on-field persona of an ill-tempered cricketer.
For a boy whose batting won India the under-19 World Cup, Kohli took time to fulfill the promise of greatness he had displayed then. Stories of his off-field indiscretions, especially in the Indian Premier League, abounded and the knowledgeable, respected elders of his own fraternity felt a great talent was being wasted in pursuit of a “good life”.
When, how and where, the turning point came only he will be able to tell. But it came sooner than later, and ever since, Kohli is not just winning the hearts of hard-to-please critics but is also displaying the levels of skill that would be hard to match, by this or any other generation.
Comparisons with the greats of the game have already begun and justifiably so. He lacks the aura of a Viv Richards and the original Master Blaster’s imposing presence. He will find it difficult to match a Sachin Tendulkar’s appetite for runs and records in Test cricket and is unlikely to surpass the Master’s longevity.
What is unique about Kohli is the originality that he brings to his craft and the near-perfect execution of his plans, the edifice of which rests on Rahul Dravid-like technical soundness and a self-belief that could someday put even a Richards in the shade. He is not a brutal, massive big-hitter. Gayle-like sixes don’t flow from his bat; neither does he emasculate the bowlers like a Matthew Hayden would often do. Not for him the carefree, nonchalant approach of a Virender Sehwag or the breathtaking innovation of AB de Villiers.
Kohli creates magic with his wrists, be it dissecting the field square off the wicket on the off side, or sending the ball screaming into the fence on the on side. His off-side driving is a sight for the gods and its sure that a short ball, no matter at what speed it is hurled at him, will be pulled or hooked without the risk of it going in the air.
His failure in England, where he had no answer to the swinging and seaming conditions, is so far the one glaring aberration in a career that is already becoming a folklore given what he has achieved in so short a span.
Kohli, it is said, lays too much emphasis on discipline and segregating his life’s goals and working as hard as he humanly can to achieve them. He still has a long way to go, but as of today, the one fear that has been the bane and downfall of many talented cricketers does not exist in his vocabulary. It is the fear of failure.
True sporting greatness courts challenges and a genius is one who loves the big stage and the pressure that comes with it. Even a Tendulkar fan will, even if grudgingly, acknowledge that in making the big stage his own, Kohli may have already surpassed his and India’s greatest idol.