The Greatness

Six runs separate him from 6000 Test runs. The average stands at 54.49. Just before his dismissal today, it almost touched 55.

The last 10 Tests have seen Virat Kohli score 1378 runs at 81.05 with 6 hundreds.

The figures are superhuman.

There are 23 hundreds to go with his 18 half-centuries. Only Don Bradman and George Headley stand ahead of him in terms of conversion rate.

(Let me mention something here that very few will. George Headley did not face the best attacks in any of the series he played bar one. England did not send their best sides to West Indies in those days, they fielded experimental sides when the men from the Caribbean visited them and Australia did not tour the West Indies till much later.)

The England tour of 2014 had been a well-documented disaster for Kohli. This is one country where he desperately wanted to succeed.

No matter how much Kohli maintains that he is not swayed by media reports and opinions, he is a sportsman at the very peak of his trade. He wants to conquer everything that his wide willow is capable of. England was a final frontier.

The Edgbaston hundred was a gem. Scored in extenuating circumstances, essayed in conditions that were almost unplayable, with support nearly non-existent at the other end. It proved that he could score in this country.

The two innings that he played in Trent Bridge, which could so easily have been centuries in each innings, underlined that, once again, that his name has been securely embossed in the annals of greatness.

There have been men whose careers are flawed with poor figures in some countries. Some of them are partly redeemed by a solitary century.  That may not fool the discerning analyst. Like Mohammad Azharuddin’s Adelaide hundred will never make him a great in Australia.

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One hundred can be a flash in the pan, hiding otherwise poor numbers in a particular country. If, however, the big score is repeated, the stamp of authority becomes indelible. At Nottingham, Kohli repeated it, and almost did so twice.

The genius is palpable. He seems to bat on a different surface, in a different plane, in a different universe, from the rest of the lineup.

At Edgbaston, he scored 200 in his two innings. The rest of the side scored 236 in exchange of 18 dismissals.

At Trent Bridge, in the second innings, he batted No 4 as usual, and scored 103 off 197 balls, at a strike rate of 52.28.

Number 3 Cheteshwar Pujara and No 5 Ajinkya Rahane, making up the rest of the middle order, managed 101 runs between them facing 302 balls, at a strike rate of 33.

It underlines that Kohli scores even when the best of the rest find it impossible to make runs at anything approaching a fair clip. He manages high scores even when his mates fail to survive.

After this Nottingham Test, there will be few naysayers about the class of Virat Kohli.

Well, that is not really true. There will always be naysayers in cricket, people polishing the halos of their own personal idols or too trapped in their own myopic windows of a distant past. But they need not be taken seriously.  Eventually, these voices will drown in the sheer tumultuous tide of facts and figures.

The dangers

Yet, there are some concerns that one needs to voice.

Simply because the tale of brilliance does not end with his incredible batting feats in Test cricket.

The last 10 ODIs have seen him score 862 runs at 123.14, at a strike rate of 98.28. He has almost 10000 runs in that format with an average of 58.

And he goes full tilt in the T20Is as well.

He leads the side in all three formats.

He leads by being focused on every moment. In the game. Following it keenly, getting involved, planning moves, executing them, letting frustration show when some opposition batsman just about manages to survive, and celebrating wildly when success graces the team.

Every plan hatched in the dressing room and on the field has his thoughts stamped on them. He has to be there hands-on, nearby, coordinating the implementation of every such strategy. In between, he will clap his hands to cheer the side on.

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Kohli is not the calm, collected captain who stands expressionless at first slip, quietly marshalling his men with subtle gestures. He is there everywhere, moving the field around with energetic waves of the arms. He himself shifts his position, almost circling the batsman by perching in different close in positions. From the infield, he gives vigorous chase, because, as shown in Edgbaston during the partnership between Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow, he is a fantastic fielder who can turn things around with a moment of brilliance in the outfield.

He is there to charge aggressively at the batsman from short cover as a short run is contemplated. He is there to give him the fitting send-off as a fallen rival departs.

And then it does not end there either.

Sanjay Bangar, the batting coach, does make the occasional appearance in Press Conferences. But, at the completion of the Test matches, even if the team has ended up badly on the losing side, it is Virat Kohli who marches up, serious, apprehensive, but determined, to field the complicated, and sometimes inane, questions of the pressmen.

Seldom does a peripheral member of the team substitute for him. Kohli meets the challenges head-on.

And when the team reaches the venue of the next Test match, he again walks in to face the same complicated, and sometimes inane, questions of the media in the pre-match press conference.

Kohli is not someone to whom delegation comes naturally. He has to be in the thick of things, either doing what needs to be done or enabling that deed by all but carrying the doer along on his shoulders.

Whether he bats, fields, eggs his bowlers on, intimidates the opposition or negotiates the media at the end of an exhausting day, the passion in him burns like a vigorous flame.

And therein lies the concern.

All these various portfolios across the three formats accumulate into the tremendous workload.

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And then, of course, there is the yearly IPL. While purists can shrink at the very mention of the league, one cannot expect one of the top batsmen of the world not to play in the most lucrative of tournaments during his best years.

Virat is just 29. In peak physical condition and the mind of an aggressive champion. Right now there can be warning signs like a strained back, but that can be taken in his huge youthful stride.

But things cannot continue this way for too long. The strain can reach a breaking point. One particular back injury can become a bit too nagging, a bit too long-lasting and start to fiddle with his batting technique. We have seen this happen to another great Indian batsman not too far ago in the past.

And the fire of passion that he carries relentlessly may end up burning out even a character of his seemingly indefatigable energy.

Yes, burn out is precisely the concern I have for this extraordinary cricketer.

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In India the circus consisting of the sponsors, the franchises, the media, the ex-cricketers, the fans and even the politicians and the stand-up comedians … (the last group can be considered an all-inclusive superset) … make playing top-level cricket one of the most demanding of professions. And being on the hot seat is by far the most incredibly exacting and exhausting of jobs.

And on top of that, to be the best batsman of the side, sometimes the only one,  borders dangerously on the borders of impossibility.

Virat is too precious a cricketer to lose to this extraordinary madness. With his combination of youth, zeal and ability he may not realise the potential dangers of prolonged exposure to such workload.


But it is very very necessary that people close to him and close to Indian cricket do understand.

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