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Another day, another record. Watching Virat Kohli sometimes makes you feel that he’s playing a video game on ‘Amateur’ difficulty. The cynics will point to a game prioritising greater revenue over greater contests by tipping the scales of an already-uneven balance further in favour of the batsman.
Additionally, a general lack of high quality bowling attacks, batsmen-friendly wickets and the relative success of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan may also be used as ammunition to dilute the magnitude of Kohli’s achievements. But in the cold, hard light of facts, there’s no denying that we are witnessing something special – the top batsman of his generation at his prime. He is simply unstoppable at the moment.
Life wasn’t always this easy. Hear him, and those close to him, talk about his early years and a lot of what makes Kohli himself begins to make sense. In the notoriously political Delhi cricketing system, nothing is ever easy. Scores of grotesquely-gifted kids made waves as youngsters only to fall out of favour with the powers that be, never to be seen again.
By standing out in all his youth teams and being marked for greatness since his early teens, Kohli could have trodden a similar path. But as a by-product of his environment and desperate to avoid the same fate, street-smarts and a combativeness to fight for every last detail had to be imbibed alongside the ability to bat for long hours in the crippling Delhi heat.
The next step on his journey to an international cricketer was to maintain that focus as a cricketer. The late teenage phase is when the seeds of your character are sown and is arguably the most impressionable age for a sportsman. As the hype only amplified once Kohli broke into Delhi’s Ranji Trophy team, aged 18, lesser men may have let their guard down thinking they’ve already made it.
— ICC (@ICC) 24 October 2018
The early days of a little fame can be dizzying to those not prepared for it and can set you in a tailspin impossible to recover from. But it was then that one of the most poignant anecdotes of his career emerged from – one that reinforced the notion that the then teenaged boy was cut from a different cloth.
Facing a mammoth first-innings total, Kohli’s Delhi side were in trouble at 103 for 5 at the end of the second day’s play, all of 343 runs behind. It was that night when Kohli was informed of the tragic passing of his father. In a remarkable display of courage, Kohli returned the following morning to score a 90 full of character, saving his team in the process and honouring his father the best way he could. Hindsight is 20/20, but it was clear that day he would go on to greater things and sure enough, a few years later with an U19 World Cup in tow, Virat Kohli was an India player.
While the story from hereon in may seem relatively straightforward – hundreds after hundreds, it isn’t quite that simple. Kohli had proved that he had the toughness and the desire to reach the top, but did he have the hunger and the dedication to stay there? Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick are just two amongst the hundreds of cricketers who have dominated domestic cricket, but struggled to make the transition onto the international scene.
It has taken years of blood, sweat and toil to bend the game to his will. It has required the kind of dedication that we can only aspire to devote
Sure enough, while Kohli found early success in the shorter versions of the game, he found things tougher in Test cricket. He was roughed up by Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul on Test debut and was exposed by Jimmy Anderson on his first tour to England. Lesser players would have baulked at these setbacks and let it get to them.
What Kohli did instead, is show the world arguably his most impressive trait – the constant desire to improve. He took the criticism on the chin and simply worked hard. The results speak for themselves. For a man who achieved so much so young – he won both U19 and senior world cups aged 22 – he is not one to easily rest on his laurels. Nor could he, his personality wouldn’t allow him that luxury.
His career began in a tricky, culturally transitional period in India. The old guard of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid et al were the archetypal sportsman – humble and retiring. Anyone not fitting the norm were arrogant and doomed to failure. Then came Kohli, dressed to the nines, more in line with the younger generation and armed with an unabashed brashness and a volley of expletives.
Strictly speaking, people would have loved to see him fail. It would be the easiest thing to blame it on his attitude, over which severe question marks were constantly swirling in his early years. It is inconceivable to think that he would have been afforded as many chances as a Rohit Sharma to settle into the side. He simply had to succeed and in doing so, laid down a great bit of legacy for the rest of the country – it was possible to marry flash with success.
“Century pe century baar baar, run hue pure dus hazaar!”
Heartiest congratulations brother @imVkohli ?
Fastest player ever to complete 10,000 ODI runs! What a remarkable journey it’s been so far!#ViratKohli #Virat10K pic.twitter.com/HRzLEGaxzN
— Suresh Raina?? (@ImRaina) 24 October 2018
That isn’t the only piece of legacy he’s established. The current Indian team is the fittest it has ever been, and it can all be traced back to Kohli. Legend has it that one day, Kohli examined his body in the mirror and decided it was nowhere near the required standard for an elite sportsman. It was then that he decided to change his lifestyle drastically. He cut down on all his favourite foods, curated his diet to the most fine-grained degree and developed an intense fitness regimen. The results are there for all to see. You rarely witness Kohli flagging the field. He could bat through an entire innings and come back to field with the same intensity – a far cry from the days of witnessing Tendulkar periodically cramp in the 90s.
On the surface, while it does seem like Kohli is batting in easy mode, its worth revisiting how he made it so. It has taken years of blood, sweat and toil to bend the game to his will. It has required the kind of dedication that we can only aspire to devote. We don’t know how long this domination will last, but we should enjoy it while it does.