Bangladesh v India, 3rd ODI, Mirpur January 7, 2010

Kohli comes of age

Virat Kohli threatened to go the Rohit Sharma way and waste his initial chances in a land with tough competition for middle-order spots, but his innings at Mirpur today has signalled his journey to maturity

That 300 is the new 250 on the modern, flat batting pitches has been known for some time. Last month, this contempt for what used to be a stiff target was on show during the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata. Today, the ease with which MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli chased down 297 - after three quick wickets had fallen - felt slightly strange to watch. Both bowling attacks - Sri Lanka's in Kolkata and Bangladesh's tonight - weren't great, the pitch was dead long before the game began and there was the dew factor. But surely, chasing down 300 shouldn't be so easy?

Whatever happened to the frenetic, panic-filled high-adrenalin chases? Weren't you supposed to take high risks and go hammer and tongs against the new ball, slow things down in the middle overs, before hunting down the steep required run-rate in a thrilling final-over finish?

Like in Kolkata, India wrapped it up here with more than an over to spare. The players weren't high on adrenalin, the crowd looked on almost silently, perhaps even puzzled a touch, and Indian batsmen walked off as if they had chased 230.

Whether this new order - dull, high-scoring games on flat tracks - is good or bad for cricket is a debate for another day. But both these games have showcased Kohli's journey towards maturity.

Not that long ago Kohli was an impish boy, seemingly in love with his own talent. Ray Jennings, his Royal Challengers Bangalore coach, described him as "a very talented kid [who] sometimes thinks he is better than the game." It's his strength and weakness. That confidence, though, gives him the X-factor that makes him stand out in the crowd of India's fringe players. He is not a prodigy but walks around with the confidence of one.

It annoyed some and thrilled others, however, that he threatened to go the Rohit Sharma way and waste his initial chances in a land with tough competition for middle-order spots. His dismissals were typical - either too aggressive or a wrongly timed 'cute' shot. Kolkata, where he notched up his maiden hundred, marked a turning point. A forty-minute flight east to Dhaka and it has got even better.

There weren't any flamboyant, audacious shots today, none to please the crowd or his ego. He accumulated almost quietly, as much as is possible with the asking rate close to 7. He played several back-foot punches, stretched out to play the square-drives and pinged long-on and long-off to rotate the strike. Even his dismissal was not characteristic: there was no arrogance in the shot selection, he was just done in the flight by a good ball.

In Kolkata, he had Gambhir as a partner. Today he had equally solid company in his captain Dhoni, who felt Kohli has come a long way from where he started. Asked about the world's perception of Kohli, Dhoni said, "He has grabbed his chances. It's important for him to be himself. You have to show off what you are and he has matured now. To us, he comes as a humble guy. He might come across differently to the world."

What he said next was more revealing. "Being a good human being is important but it can come later, what's important now is that he [Kohli] scores on the field. He is an aggressive lad and it's important for him to be himself - you have to show off what you are. The good thing is, he is learning to bat long innings and through pressure situations."

He has grabbed his chances. It's important for him to be himself. You have to show off what you are and he has matured now. To us, he comes as a 'humble guy'. He might come across different to the world
MS Dhoni on Virat Kohli

That's something Dhoni has been doing very well for a long time. It's incredible that he has a Michael Bevan-esque average of nearly 52 from 156 ODIs. To say that Dhoni's century tonight was a typical effort would appear as a belittlement, but in truth it's a tribute. He has such mastery over his batting that he seems to be on an auto pilot on flat tracks. He has almost taken out risk from his batsmanship and, considering what an adrenalin-feeding marauder he used to be, it's no small feat.

The strange ugliness to his batting and the efficient, ruthless monotony that accompanies it, is almost fascinating to watch. Today he started by collecting singles with his customary pushes to square of the wicket before slowly starting to drive down the ground. Then came a stage where he started using his crease well; where previously he was lunging forward a lot, he started to go back or forward to create room for his punches and drives. The big shots came later, once he was well settled. It's how he mostly plays these days; it's a comfortable routine honed to perfection.

Bangladesh didn't have a chance against such ruthlessness. Perhaps, as captain Shakib Al Hasan himself admitted later, they erred by not attacking enough when Dhoni and Kohli were starting off. "I made a big mistake by spreading the field bit too much," said Shakib. "I should have had one more fielder in the circle and put more pressure. I am learning every day."

Bangladesh would hope that Shakib, otherwise a wonderful wholehearted performer with both bat and ball, goes through his captaincy learning curve quickly. India on the other hand, would be happy that the young Kohli has started on his journey to manhood.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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