What makes a batsman great? Is it the number of runs he scores? His contribution to the team’s cause? Having an array of shots at one’s disposal? Showing consistency during the gameplay? Or simply rotating the strike when the chips are down?
India’s current captain, Virat Kohli, can most certainly stake claim to the title of the best batsman in the world. The Latin phrase — Veni, vidi, vici — which roughly translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered” can best describe the phenomenon that Kohli is, and the success he has attained over the years in international cricket.
The Early Years
Kohli shot into prominence after leading his side to the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in early 2008. An IPL contract followed, and the 19-year-old was soon fast-tracked into the national side in August 2008 for an ODI tour to Sri Lanka and later the ICC Champions Trophy, which was held at South Africa.
Kohli began well, notching up half-centuries in his debut tour against Sri Lanka and scored a unbeaten the ICC knock-out tournament against West Indies. He, however, had to wait for his chances and the Indian management had to accommodate senior pros like Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar at the top order ahead of the 2011 ICC World Cup at home.
Cementing His Spot
It was at Eden Gardens in late 2009 when Kohli announced his arrival in great pomp. He scored his maiden ton in one day international and shared a match-winning partnership with Gautam Gambhir (who scored his highest individual score of 150) as India defeated Sri Lanka in a high-scoring match. The century gave Kohli impetus as he went from strength to strength from there on.
The World Notices
Every batsman has certain breakthrough innings in their life, which often defines their character and their mettle. The one game of Kohli that made the world sit up and take notice was his 86-ball knock against Sri Lanka at Hobart. Chasing an improbable 321 from 40 overs to get a bonus point and stay alive in the tournament, Kohli plummeted the Sri Lankan bowlers on his way to 133*, getting India home with more than two overs to spare.
King Kohli, the master of run chases, had arrived.
Talk About Technique
When Kohli began his career, he was a hot head and tended to show his aggression while on the field. As he grew mature, however, the aggressive nature gelled pretty well with his technique. The Indian middle order is always on the lookout for runs. His ability to judge the ball earlier than others, and being equally quick with his wrists often pays him dividends, as his career strike rate of 93.14% suggests.
Kohli is equally adept against pace and spin and rarely looks ungainly at the crease. With nimble foot-movement against the spinners, he can be destructive if the situation demands. Having jettisoned in the top-tier of Indian cricket early, Kohli has had to fill some rather big shoes of his predecessors like the greatest batsman Sachin Tendulkar and has done an admirable job.
A cricketer is always judged by how good he plays overseas. Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Steve Waugh are players who have been equally good, if not better, away from home. Kohli, although struggled in the initial part of his career overseas, has overcome major technical difficulties and has Test centuries v South Africa, England, West Indies, New Zealand and Australia.
Taking Over As The Skipper
Kohli’s predecessor as the captain of Indian national team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was widely regarded an astute man-manager and a shrewd captain. Dhoni’s brain worked like a super computer when he was defending a target, changing bowlers and always knowing who he had to play when tackling a rather difficult situation. Kohli, on the other hand, is a smart captain, who knows his deficiencies, and does well enough to hide them.
The Delhi-born cricketer’s first Test match as a captain was against Australia at Adelaide. He led from the front and scored a ton in the first innings. India when then set a target of 364 runs in the match, and as Kohli would later say, that instead of batting out the 98 mandated overs, Indians were going for the win. The captain, as usual, led from the front, scoring a masterly 141, even as his team came agonizingly close before losing by a mere 48 runs.
The year 2016 turned out to be Kohli’s best phase by some distance as he plundered runs across formats with his consistency reaching insane levels. He amassed over 2,500 international runs at a mind-boggling average of 86.5 with seven centuries and 13 half-centuries from 40 innings. This included a ‘Man of the Tournament’ award in the 2016 World T20 where India made the semifinals.
In addition to this, Kohli also racked up a phenomenal 900 runs in the Indian Premier League with an incredible four centuries to his name. During the 2016-17 season, Kohli also became the first batsman to register a double century in four successive Test series, going past Sir Donald Bradman and Rahul Dravid, both of whom had managed it for three consecutive series.
The Chase Machine
Of all the batsmen to have featured in at least 20 wins batting second, the Indian captain tops the average with a stupendous 108.3 in 31 victories. The next best is MS Dhoni, averaging 72.5 in 29 wins, followed by Jos Buttler (71.8 in 21 wins).
The prime example of Kohli’s brilliance would be the run chase v Australia in the 2016 ICC T20 World Cup, where India were set a rather modest 160 runs target in 20 overs. Though it looked like the target was always in reach, India got off to a bad start and lost Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in quick succession. The asking rate had crept to nine for the last 12 overs.
Twenty off 20 balls at one point, Kohli pressed the Australians with his running between the wickets before unleashing cover drives that quickly hacked down the equation. The batting maestro finished unbeaten on 82 off 51, India won with five balls to spare.
Virat Kohli has done it before (against Pakistan in 2012 Asia Cup) and he did it again in 2017, scoring 82 chasing 170 in Colombo; and then again in 2019, chasing down West Indies’ 207 with a reassuring 94. The list is pretty long. If it’s a tricky chase, trust Kohli to have a whole-hearted go at it.
Virat Kohli’s exploits have shown the world that he can dominate in all formats simultaneously without breaking a sweat, and is therefore the greatest batsman in the world currently.