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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harish on January 11, 2010, 6:34 GMT

    Great!!Really Great!! for Indian Cricket Team..

    We've got our Rahul Dravid ak in the form of Virat who is defensive and also aggressive..

    After Sachin retires,Sehwag&Gambhir would open and Kohli as 1 down..

  • Amit on January 9, 2010, 8:16 GMT

    Kohli is a great batsman in the making. He has natural grace in his batting (and so does Rohit Sharma). The only problem he has is he becomes greedy and tries a shot a little too cute and gives his wicket away (same was the problem with Rohit). Hope he doesn't go Rohit's way and knocks Yuvraj, the only weak link in India's Test team.

    Regarding Kaif, he was a workhorse and didn't have the flamboyance and class to excel at the highest level.

  • Aryaman on January 9, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    Well said Skids, very well said. not only does Dhoni bat in a risk free manner, he also manages to score at a strike rate of 100 consistently. With an average of 52 & strike rate 0f 90, you would pick him in any team as a batsman alone, but guess what? He also captains and keeps!!!

  • ANAND on January 9, 2010, 4:55 GMT

    i'm very happy with kohli innings. He played very well but the man of the match was given to ms dhoni. this is not fair, man of match was deserves to virat kohli bcoz he was the real anchor of the match....and to give up him confidence dhoni should gave his price to virat...

  • Sahil on January 8, 2010, 22:38 GMT

    Its good to see that Dhoni now has an unofficial vice captain who can anchor the innings and play sensibly when India are in trouble. Not only will this put Dhoni's mind at ease but the large India supporters out there.

  • Sam on January 8, 2010, 21:13 GMT

    I think Kholi is bit over-rated here and does not have the charisma of the top order indian batsmen like Gambhir,Sehwag ,Sachin,Dravid. IMO, any decent Ranji trophy player could score a century in Indian sub continent or against Bangladesh,so still long way to go for him before being tested.

  • bibhuti on January 8, 2010, 18:59 GMT

    Kohli has really announced his arrival and announced that in style. A lot is being talked about his temprament. But those who have closely watched his career would agree about this guy's greatness. The guy who appeared for to the cause for his delhi team the day his father died. You can't talk about the guy's lack of temprament. He has already played two innings which any cricketer would be proud of. You must cheer and boost the confidence of the guy.

  • Paul on January 8, 2010, 18:45 GMT

    Its good about all the talk of Kohli coming to age but he has yet to prove himself at grand level (Australia, South Africa etc). Time will tell. We start jumping to conclusions too soon. Speaking of "coming of age", when will we see a news headline telling of an Indian Bowler or heck even fielding coming of age? In a country of billion people we cant produce even a single quality bowler?? That truly amazes me! BCCI, the richest of all cricket boards, means nothing if it can't use its financial power to solve AGE OLD Problem of Indian Cricket!

  • Abhishek on January 8, 2010, 16:11 GMT

    I like the way the new Indian batsmen play! Many forget what Dhoni has accomplished over the years for us, coming 3 or 4-5 down and scoring 100's and 150's to help India. All the fans see is the last series, or the last year and scream "bloody murder" whenever anyone heaps praise on a batsman. Very sad Mahi is awesome! Whatta great bastman, keeper and captain! I salute such bravado. He has the instinct and his eye is on ONE thing always - VICTORY! No half hearted attemps, full-bloodied victory! Kohli is good too, from what I've seen. Obviously he needs to get exposure on the swinging, fast pitches of SA or Australia...and that's when his real talent and composure will come come out. I WISH Kohli and Team India all the best! Chak de phattey!

  • IndTheBest on January 8, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    It's too early to start comparing Kohli with Dravid or some other greats. At this point of time I rate him as good as Kaif (when he came in indian team). Let Kohli prove himself before we rate him so high. I still hail his performance in last match that was creditable.

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