“His love for the sport, his respect towards the rivals. His ability to learn and his will to never fall away from the pedestal. England has finally been breached!”
The captaincy was new to him. As the Indian Cricket Team set afoot in Australia the cricketing world was abuzz. Questions perforated the air and naysayers were up-in-arms. The talisman who had enchanted the world with his powers was on the verge of losing his magical aura. Standing on a knife’s edge, the whispers of his dismal performance in England were soon turning into a clamour but there he was – brash, young and aggressive – eager to shut them all.
The tour Down Under in 2014-15 brought the same old ferocious Virat Kohli to the fore. A cricketer inhibited by the surroundings. A leader revelling in tough moments. An individual engulfed by passion. A fighter facing the threats up front. Sans MS Dhoni, the challenges were greater but he trumped them all to register four centuries and a mammoth 692 runs even as the world watched in awe. Though Steven Smith surpassed Kohli’s tally of runs in the series, the Indian had risen above all doubts to make his mark. Yet, eerie whispers were still around. “England was yet to be breached.”
The nation was banking on Kohli – India’s biggest superstar in the T20 World Cup in 2016. The home side was the best bet to clinch the title but an underwhelming performance by the Indians saw them lose out in the semi-final race. Batsmen struggled even when they should have flourished and among the smog, only one individual stood tall. Scoring 273 runs with three fifties and a staggering average of 136.50, the cricketer who was on his way to dethrone Sachin Tendulkar remained the lone shining star. As West Indies cantered away to a gutsy win over India in the semi-finals, the cameras panned over to Kohli, his eyes betraying his heart. He had been India’s hero; their saviour. But eerie whispers refused to die down. “England was yet to be breached.”
Against West Indies, the double-hundred mark in white clothing was finally scalped. Having made no score in excess of 200 up until 2015, Kohli was eager to notch up yet another landmark to his ever-increasing book of achievements. In the Caribbean Isles, his trademark celebration intact, Kohli raced away to his first ever double century in international cricket. But the champions are almost always insatiable and as one double hundred followed another, it all looked too easy. There was no bowling and no surface where he would not leave his mark. Six double hundreds since the summer of 2016 only emphasized his growing hunger for runs. More runs. In ODIs, he was far, far ahead in the race and in Test cricket, the Delhiite was right up there too. Averages of more than 50 in both the formats. 55 international hundreds. A legend-in-the-making or a legend already? The charm of Kohli spread all over the globe but England was yet to be breached.
It is a common tendency that the human nature looks up for any signs of lack in a being who is meant to be perfect. Tendulkar did not score as many in Indian wins. Ricky Ponting suffered in the subcontinent. Shane Warne emerged a pauper against the Indian batsmen. Every great player has his own share of lucks that are highlighted each time he enters a new club and of accomplishments. Our idols should be perfect. They should not give in to inconsistencies. They should provide joy every moment they take the field. Kohli, who had transcended the realms of superstardom into a mortal divine was meant to be that superhuman who could never stop. In South Africa, in Sri Lanka, in Australia. Against England, against New Zealand, against West Indies. The juggernaut never stopped but England and the United Kingdom was yet to be breached.
The Summer of 2014. In Indian Cricket’s history, it was yet another tour that went from bad to worse in overseas conditions. A memorable win at Lord’s was followed by heavy defeats but even as the Indian Cricket fanatic has made peace with the abysmal showings on tour, what they failed to come to terms with was the dwindling presence of their icon Kohli. His poor technique outside the off-stump was exposed by James Anderson. The inswingers and the outswingers befuddled him and his footwork remained vulnerable when the English pacers changed their pace and lengths. Kohli was forced to drive on the front foot and just when the Indian was getting accustomed to it, a sudden inswinger would result in an edge. Over time, a dazed state of mind clouded his otherwise stoic thinking and with each failure, the critics attacked his follies. An average of 13.5 in ten innings on that tour rose above all his other match-winning deeds henceforth and till England was not breached, the figure would not be forgotten.
The Summer of 2018. When individuals rise above the grandeur of a team, it can safely be said that he has garnered a huge respect world-wide. A battle between India and England. But to many, a battle for and of Kohli. A stern test of emotions. Of skills and of temperament.
It was brought to the fore when the English crowd booed him as he walked out to bat. A silent smile to them.
It was brought to the fore when Anderson smiled, a twinkle in his eye, as he reminisced the old times. A nod towards him, acknowledging the challenge.
It was brought to the fore when Joe Root kept giving his premier bowler a go at his counterpart. A guard outside the crease, displaying how he has matured and learnt from his follies committed four years ago, in response.
The ploy was simple. Negate Anderson’s swing through the air by stepping out to meet the ball early. He was intent to leave as many deliveries as he could after the lunch break when Anderson bowled 26 deliveries to Kohli. He left 10 of those, with an immaculate idea that the Englishman’s deliveries can swing both ways. He drove only once, refusing to give in to anything that could dismiss him. A cautious start made way to a more aggressive approach as the drives, flicks, pulls and hooks were plenty. Yes, there were a few close chances but it was acceptable on the day. He played out the day and more importantly, he stood tall even as the world was eager to see him fail.
But when he got to the coveted hundred, there was no ill-hope. As Kohli burst forth with the words “come onnnn”, his supporters could not help but shed a tear. As he raised his bats in jubilation, even the harshest critics could not help but smile a wide-toothed smile. As he waved off his wedding ring, the sect of beings who had dismissed Anushka Sharma for his poor form were sent into a hiding. As the boos changed into a never-ending applause, Kohli, hiding away the droplets of tears that stood for his hard work and for his never-say-die attitude. It showcased his determination, his ferocity, his character. His love for the sport, his respect towards the rivals. His ability to learn and his will to never fall away from the pedestal. England has finally been breached!