March 2, 2012

Kohli's next challenge

He has overcome himself. Now he needs to show he can overcome his environment

Virat Kohli's hundred in Hobart was spectacular, but it wasn't our first sighting of him. He isn't a star newly seen in the evening sky; it isn't his first patent, nor a first novel newly discovered by a publisher. He has nine one-day hundreds, though this one would by some distance be his best, and his record at this stage is comparable to that of anyone who has played cricket - even some of the mighty names that he will probably one day sit alongside.

Kohli has been on the radar for a while, as a player, character and captain. The middle quality, like a middle name, should have been the least conspicuous. Certainly that is the way we have always looked at young players in India. If they strut, put their collar up, wear cool shades, and sport spiked or gelled hair, the eyebrows rise; it influences opinion, defines them. So it was with this brash young kid who could play. Yes, he was brash but everyone who saw him said he could play. You just needed to look at him long enough without letting everything else colour your opinion to know that he could

But it was through those glasses that I first saw him. I had seen a very young Tendulkar, and fine shy young men in Kumble, Dravid and Laxman - people who stood quietly by and spoke when they were spoken to. This kid had a swagger, but I had heard far too much about him to not ask about him. I did. I got a roll of the eyes, that raised eyebrow, and a sideways movement of the head. He was clearly next generation.

But I knew, too, that he had lost his father early, and my mind took me back to an outstanding India Schools player of my vintage who let his astonishing skill slip away with the passing of his father. It is a crucial phase, when you are not quite man and no longer child, when you think you know what you need to do but don't really. In some very articulate interviews later, Kohli spoke of that phase, of being lost and loud at the same time. He did well to get over it because deep down, he could play.

It was the getting-over phase that was to define him, because he was one of those players you kept an eye on, whose name your eyes drifted towards first in a scoresheet. He could have imploded in rage and self-pity, and he admits he scanned that horizon, but he pulled himself back, and it was in winning his battle with himself that he became a cricketer.

Now he has a World Cup medal and a Test hundred; he has opened the batting and played finisher; he is still a young man and the vice-captain of the national side. He knows they are saying that when the time comes for Dhoni…

And people say he is cool, that he brings a sense of calm to an innings. Yes, he can play to the gallery a bit, communicate to the crowd with his fingers, colour his language in many shades ("Shit happens," he said on air as he misfielded once while miked up), but he times an innings well, understands his role, plays the aggressor or the quiet partner (as he so beautifully did when Chris Gayle was annihilating opponents in last year's IPL).

He still likes the leg side, like all young Indian batsmen do. He can flick it there and also muscle it through, and inevitably his wagon wheel will be skewed in that area. But he can play the cover drive, and in an era in which batsmen increasingly give themselves room to play powerful shots on the leg side, that will become the gold standard; that and the straight drive. In the course of that astonishing innings in Hobart, the two shots that stood out were an inside-out six off Angelo Mathews and a cover drive as crisp, as any you will see, off Lasith Malinga.

Now he must battle expectations, for in India we know zero and one, white and black. He will be told he is the next superstar, he will be rated by his endorsements, somewhere the voices around him will seek to overpower the voice within him. He will be wrapped in superlatives and at times condemned with them. Like some before him have, he must find a calm amid the storm that India's cricket can be. It won't be easy. Having overcome himself, it is in overcoming his environment that the next ten years will lie. Maybe 15.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Asker on March 5, 2012, 2:37 GMT

    With due respect to his talent and his tenacity and grit in fighting against his shortcomings and sufferings and being to a certain extent successful, which shows he has nerves of steel and giving in or giving up is not in his dictionary. But we Indians have a very bad habit of getting carried away by some good performances and start searching for superlatives and putting them on high pedestal and build high expectations and create unnecessary pressure and once they falter we are the ones to bring them down to the dust, we have these habit of going to both extremes which is very bad. To be a captain, first and foremost thing is calm head under all circumstances, not getting emotional, quick thinking etc etc which this kid lacks a lot may be he will grow up in a few years time. First he should last long enough as we have seen so many have vanished into thin air. Vinod Kambli, L.Sivaramakrishnan, s.Vishwanath, maninder singh they were all far more talented. Kaif is the best option now.

  • Nilesh on March 5, 2012, 1:49 GMT

    I am still not sure what I feel about Kohli's elevation to the vice captain slot. I think making Kohli vice captain is more a reflection on the poorer performance of Sehwag and Gambhir (who were the vice captain and potential vice captain(s)) of the side. On the positive side, age is on Kohli's side. In the limited overs format (ODIs/T20s) I thought we needed a vice captain that was much younger than Dhoni (kind of like Angelo Mathews for SL). Kohli fits that bill and Sehwag and Gambhir do not. Also barring some unexpected circumstances, I expect Dhoni to continue atleast till next WC (2015) in these formats. So Kohli is a decent choice for VC. On the questionable side is his temperament and the potential that this could easily go to his head (he is only 23) and we may lose a potentially extremely exciting talent in the middle order. I hope and pray that he finds this additional responsibility invigorating and wish him the best. Let's see how things work out in a few years.

  • Kuka on March 5, 2012, 1:17 GMT

    Harsha should advise rest of the team BCCI. They surrendered 8 tests, 19 ODI and 1 T20 without putting up a fight. It's pathetic Indian cricket is dominated by media, bcci, ....who think money first. Personality cult is pathetic in team BCCI or India. Media and businesses shower money on flat pitch bullies. Let IPL make bouncing & pacy tracks and then we will see how many DLF maximums get hit in IPL lol

  • Bunty on March 5, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    Kohli had actually shown his pedigree twice in South Africa once in a bouncy wicket when he alone was 80 or so out of 130/7 or something and he kept playing fire with fire and also against Pakistan in Champions Trophy in SA again.He scored those run in "live" match condition unlike Jadeja and some other contenders. Those knocks showed this guy has technique and guts to fight it out. What he has to avoid is to make any eye or verbal contact with opponents while batting.If you watch closely even the last game against Australia in SCG just before he got out some Australian fielder from cover said something to him to cause him to jerk and look around.Lo behold 3 dot balls and he played an airy shot and got out. It is this aspect of the game that he should not engage in while batting.He conquers that quality and he will be good for the long term.Now if only we could 3 or more batsmen of similar quality and Indian cricket can turn the page.

  • Arun on March 4, 2012, 19:23 GMT

    Kohli's attitude is reminiscent of a young/mid-career Ricky Ponting, KP, or even Yuvraj Singh. I think that Kohli surpasses Yuvi in ability. Yuvi is a poor test batsman, whereas Kohli just might be a reasonably good one. I do believe that he needs to deal with his constant rage -- and that's where the Ponting/KP comparison becomes apt. There are many who disliked or despised Ponting for his arrogance, short-temper and lack of grace, and Kohli seems to be cut from the same cloth. And while he may succeed in his career, as Ponting has, he'll never gain the universal love and respect that Tendulkar has, even though Ponting and Tendulkar were roughly on par in terms of talent. Or worse, he might end up like KP, losing his captaincy for shooting off his mouth. We in India have come to condone bad behaviour (Bajji, Ganguly, Yuvi and now Kohli) as aggression or passion, or sticking it to the man And yet the greatest icons of this decade are SRT, Dravid, Kumble. The zen masters were not wrong

  • Jay on March 4, 2012, 18:18 GMT

    Yes, Harsha: Kohli's break-out season has propelled him into the forefront of Indian cricket. The sky is the limit for this 23-year old. Or so it seems. He represents the new generation of young Desis - confident, brash, juvenile - much like the characters (Imraan, Arjun & Kabir) in the Bollywood hit "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (You don't get Life a Second Time). Their bachelor trip to Spain is replete with adventures - sky-diving/deep-sea diving/bull runs - as well as misadventures - bar fights and romantic diversions, misunderstandings and arguments (Yes Virat: "Shit happens" explains Imraan to Arjun in one rough episode). The Kohli analogy: Coming of Age & Growing up. But the real question: Does Virat have the Staying Power? Like a Sachin or Rahul or Sourav? Remember Virat's tribute to Sachin after the 2011 WC triumph: "He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years so its time we carried him on our shoulders"! The next challenge: Will Virat also endure the burden for long?

  • Jawahar on March 4, 2012, 18:08 GMT

    Harsha, Good article on Virat. Actually Virat should have done as well quite some time back - namely on the tour of WI, those failures were surprising - and possibly those failures may have come because he waited too long for opportunity. I very much suspect that was the case for Yuvaraj and Badrinath too. Hope Cheteswar Pujara will escape that fate and somewhere Rayudu also gets a look-in. However I like to know your analysis on one aspect - failure of both Sachin and Dravid in Aus; and Sachin's not so great performance in England too. The 100th 100, age , IPL seem easy pickings to blame but I guess Dravid's and Sachin's stature should have eaily tackled such issues. I do believe age has not affected their batting skills yet - may have adjusted some shots here and there but the ability to face good bowling is not affected. Especially Sachin looked so good early on in the Aus tour, it looked like 2009-10 again. So what went wrong? And why Dhoni loses toss so many times?

  • Subhashish on March 4, 2012, 8:14 GMT

    It is too early to talk about Virat Kohli. Let him perform against Soth Africa, Australia and England at home and away tours over a period of time in different formats of the game for him to earn his stripes. Although I like the commentory and articles of Harsha Bhogle - I think as far as Indian Cricket is concerned, Virat Kohli makes a good COPY for the media. The best part of the article was the way Harsha articulated the loss of a father - "It is a crucial phase, when you are not quite man and no longer child, when you think you know what you need to do but don't really". I also lost my father at young age and I also know the way I let my talent slip away.

  • rahul on March 4, 2012, 6:34 GMT


  • Derek on March 4, 2012, 0:26 GMT

    For goodness' sake , let Kohli alone. We always seem to have an exaggerated response to all our sporting heroes( Indians that is). We think that they are gods at first . Then when they have a slight stumble we cover them with opprobium. More often than not -and certainly as far as cricketers are concerned -- we overexpose them ( think of Tests/ODI/IPL/20-20s etc). It is ridiculous to expect a perpetually high standard. That said , our stars should also realise when it is time to gently fade back into the skyof a new day.

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