On the field, he is an epitome of passion, hard work and grit. Off the field, he attracts the eyeballs of roughly a billion, who seem to want to track every move he makes; what is the first thing he does when he wakes up? When does he eat? What does he eat? Interestingly, we do know what he eats, and that too has inspired a majority of sportspersons – including some of his own teammates. And that, is the burden of power which Indian captain Virat Kohli carries with an almost effortless acknowledgement and grace.
He leads a country which is as passionate about cricket as it is obsessive; he has reached heights which have remained untouched; unknown in the sport. For many, though, Virat Kohli’s genius reignited the fans’ supernatural hopes and expectations which were once the copyrighted property of the great Sachin Tendulkar. Speaking purely on emotions, that, by far, remains the biggest achievement of Virat Kohli.
“I always wanted to be Sachin. I wanted to bat like him, so I tried to copy the shots he played and hit sixes the way he used to. He was the one player that always made me think: I want to bat like him,” Virat Kohli had once said. Today, he is one of the most inspirational stories in Indian sports.
The Indian captain turned 31 on Tuesday. Watching from afar, his career trajectory has been a learning; not only on work ethics but also on behavioural redemption. Born on November 5, 1988, Virat Kohli grew from a chubby, brash young lad to one of the most successful cricketers in the world who carved his own path and fought his own struggles – sometimes, even against himself. Glory didn’t come easy, but then, Virat Kohli isn’t easy.
One of the stories which has been told many a time is how Virat, then 18, braved his father’s tragic death to play in a four-day game for Delhi against Karnataka. He scored 90 in the match to help save the game for his side. When he returned, he promised his brother that he will play for India. “Falling down and fighting back is part of sport and life, but the ability to come back made me realise that one incident had made me so strong,” Kohli would say as he recollected the moment in a detailed interview with American journalist Graham Bensinger.
No setback would come close to such a personal loss, but the bit where Virat talked about the ‘ability to come back’ – that would stay with him throughout his days of struggles and even as he became the first-team regular across all the formats.He had spoken about the same on India TV's Aap Ki Adalat.
In 2014, Virat Kohli faced, potentially, the darkest phase in his cricketing career. After proving his mettle across the globe, the Delhi batsman struggled woefully in England. Even as his stature continued to rise as he returned to form, the stigma remained. ‘Come back when Virat performs in England,’ the critics would say.
Four years later, Virat returned to English soil as the captain of the Indian team. Contrary to expectations, he looked completely at ease in the press conference leading to the first Test. Then, he dropped the words which made headlines across the English media.
“I'm not in a frame of mind to prove myself in any country, I want to perform for the team.”
It was almost as if the demons of 2014 were a man-made myth. That tour did happen, didn’t it? Virat did struggle, didn’t he? If one only saw what the Indian captain did in 2018, it would certainly seem a myth. For the first time, Virat Kohli – arguably the best in the world, was ready to look bad. He wasn’t shy to be beaten by the bowler. He prepared himself to let go of his ego. And he succeeded.
He ended the four-match Test series as the highest run-scorer - 593 in eight innings. What was the next highest score, you would ask? Not in 500s. Not even in 400s. Virat Kohli scored 244 runs more than the second-highest run-getter in the series.
“Ability to comeback.”
The hunger for success has been the major driving force for Virat Kohli. In 239 ODIs since his debut in 2008, Virat has scored 11,520 runs – at a staggering average of 60.31. When Tendulkar retired from the limited-overs format in 2012, the general notion dictated that his record will remain untouched for as long as we breathe. Virat, however, has certainly put a question mark on it. He remains only six centuries shy of the ‘Master Blaster’ in ODIs, and roughly seven thousand short of surpassing him to become the highest run-scorer in the format.
With his fitness levels at the peak, one would certainly hope. Supernatural hopes, yes, but the standards he has set for himself don’t betray them.
In Tests, Virat Kohli recently became India’s most successful captain, surpassing MS Dhoni. Last month, he scored 254 against South Africa – his seventh double ton, which is the highest by an Indian. Under his leadership, India broke the home-winning streaks of the mighty Australian sides of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Justifiably, the team currently sits comfortably at the top of the ICC Test Rankings, as well as the World Test Championship Table.
Virat Kohli is the only player to have a 50+ average in all the three formats of the game. He played one of his more memorable innings in the shortest format of the game against Australia in the World Twenty20 in 2016. In a spectacular display of batting, Virat Kohli – almost singlehandedly led India to the quarterfinal of the tournament. It was almost as if he held a magic wand – an elder wand, no less – reducing the Aussie bowlers to mere bowling machines. He remained unbeaten on 82 off 51 deliveries to guide India to a memorable victory.
The one thing for which Indian cricket will forever be in debt of Virat Kohli would be the fitness revolution he brought with him as the captain of the side. He raised the bars of fitness to once-unimaginable levels to match the requirements of highly dynamic nature of cricket in the 21st century. His time as the captain of the Indian team saw the Indian pace attack emerging as arguably the most lethal in the world, and it is no coincidence.
Virat has, on many occasions, has stressed on the need to remain fit to survive international and franchise cricket. In an interview, his teammate Yuzvendra Chahal admitted that the Indian skipper made him realize the importance of fitness. Former team trainer Shankar Basu has also heaped praises on Virat Kohli for leading the change in fitness regimes in Indian cricket.
Virat himself looks at fitness with a holistic view and believes that physical fitness is key to mental well-being. “I think it is taking care of your holistic development which includes physical and mental state, because mentally you cannot boost yourself if you are physically not strong as your body will not respond. Your body needs to be fit for your mind to think something and body to follow,” the Indian captain had said in an interview.
As with most celebrities in India, Virat Kohli’s love life was subject to intense discussions. And so, unfortunately for him, the low form in England also coincided with his relationship with Indian actor Anushka Sharma. She faced a significant amount of wrath from fans of being a ‘distraction’ for Virat. Gradually, it began to make headlines. Even as Virat Kohli returned to form and continued on his heroics for the national team, the stereotypical headlines never left.
In 2016, Virat finally broke his silence on the consistent hate Anushka Sharma faced. “Shame on people for trolling Anushka Sharma non-stop. Have some compassion. She has only given me positivity,” wrote Virat Kohli on his social media profiles, with a picture which read – in capitals, ‘Shame’. It eventually became the most retweeted tweet of the year in India, and he was lauded by people from all fraternities for taking a stand against online abuse. A year later, the couple married.
Last week, Anushka, too, had enough of the trolling and hate and posted a strong statement on her Twitter profile. “Today, I have decided to [speak] because someone's silence cannot be taken as their weakness. I am not and will not be a pawn to be used by anyone's thoughts or beliefs or agendas and next time you want to use my name to discredit someone on the board or even my husband, do it with facts and proof & leave me OUT of it,” she wrote.
As the cricketer celebrates his 31st birthday, the couple is in Bhutan, where they are enjoying the treks in the mountains.
In the last 12 months, Virat Kohli scaled new heights, but also faced disappointments on the leadership front. The year saw the 2019 World Cup where India entered as one of the favourites. However, it was a disappointment yet again as India crashed out narrowly in the semifinals to New Zealand. Questions were raised over his captaincy and suggestions of dual-captaincy also did the rounds following the exit, but Kohli remained on the position.
With the bat, he scored 443 runs in the tournament which included five half-centuries and, contrary to expectations, no centuries. In the last 12 months, though, his record remains supreme. In 23 ODIs, Virat scored 1288 runs at an incredible average of 64.40, which include five hundreds.
He played 9 Tests during this timeline, scoring 735 runs at 56.53. He also scored a career-highest individual score (254*) during this time against South Africa in October 2019. One of his most memorable achievements came in January 2019, when he became the first captain to lead an Indian side to a Test series victory in Australia. The records in the shortest format are even impressive for the Indian captain. With a staggering average of 58, he scored 348 runs in 10 T20Is.
As Virat turns 31, cricketers, ex-cricketers and fans across the globe are pouring in their wishes for him. In the next 12 months, Virat Kohli faces numerous tests – majorly including the away tours in the World Test Championship and the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia. His stature as a batsman grows leaps and bounds with every series, but Virat would now aim to add a trophy as a captain to his cabinet.