Virat Kohli: Test Cricket's biggest poster boy turns 100

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Virat Kohli: Test Cricket's biggest poster boy turns 100

02 Mar 2022 260 Views Yash Mittal

On March 04, Virat Kohli will hit a hundred, a hundred that will be far more superior and significant than the 70 he has got so far. It is on this day that the biggest poster boy of modern Test cricket will write the 100th glorious chapter of what has been a career to behold, cherish and savour.

On Friday, the 269th Indian Test player will become the 71st cricketer and 12th Indian to play 100 matches in the purest format of the game.

When you think of it, it feels so surreal, right? After all, it seems like only yesterday when a young 22-year-old from Delhi was handed his maiden cap in Jamaica, 2011.

Just like in his initial years as an ODI cricketer, it was humble beginnings for Virat in Test cricket. In his maiden series, he got peppered with the short-pitch stuff by the likes of Fiedel Edwards.

He was eventually dumped from the Test set-up following a lean series. Kohli did get a call-up for the home season and was picked for the Australian tour but he knew he had his work cut-out.

It did not start well in Australia either. Consecutive failures in Melbourne and Sydney in addition to his scuffle with the hostile Australian crowd meant that skeletons were out of their closet with former players including Sanjay Manjrekar calling for his head.

Kohli did not score too many in Sydney but a pivotal moment happened in this game, which looking back on now, was the start of a major seismic shift in Indian Test cricket history.

Kohli flipped the bird to the crowd and while no one will condone his gesture, it was a moment that made it clear that gone were the days of Indian players not giving back to the opposition in equal measure; in this case the 12th men of the Australian team: their fans.

But, then, being aggressive and not backing it up with performances was never going to earn him respect. And Virat knew that. Amid calls for his axe, Kohli finally turned up the heat at the WACA with scores of 44 & 75.

All he needed now was a three-figure score and that came in the following Test on a venue that would go on to become his favourite hunting ground: The Adelaide Oval.

He scored a brilliant ton in the second innings and celebrated it with a guttural roar and a few expletives. That roar was a reflection of how much it meant to him. He'd just backed up his aggression with a performance and the same people who were mocking him in Sydney, we're now giving him a standing ovation.

India went on to lose the Test and the series 0-4 but they ended up winning in the long run.

A Test legend is born.

*******************************

I still sometimes wonder what would have been had Kohli been dropped for Rohit after consecutive failures in Australia. Would Kohli have been given another chance in the future?

Scary to even imagine, right?  

But then, Virat was born to play Test cricket; he was born to lead the Test team; he was born to pull an India immersed in deep layers of defensiveness into a flamboyant, in-your-face, group of predators, baying for blood in the home of the opposition; he was born to be the unofficial poster boy of the purest format.

The Australian tour proved to be the making of Kohli- the Test player- but tougher challenges awaited the Indian maestro.

In November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar walked into the sunset after dominating world cricket for more than two decades. As shattered Indian fans bid adieu to their 'God of Cricket', all their eyes turned on the heir apparent.

After winning the 2011 World Cup, Kohli had famously said about Tendulkar:  "He's carried Indian cricket for 2 decades, it's time we carry him on our shoulders"

"It's time to back up your words with actions, Virat" said a billion Indians as the team embarked on a tough South African tour; the first Test assignment in the post-Tendulkar era.

Kohli knew he had humongous boots to fill and the fact that he was up against the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in their den, made the task even more arduous.

India being 2/30 on a green pitch didn't help his cause either. But then by that time, it was clear that Kohli thrived in adversity. Being pushed against the wall; being challenged brought the best out of him.

And, this was as bigger a challenge in modern Test cricket as it could get. It had to bring the best out of him. And it did. The Delhi cricketer shrugged off all the concerns and doubts that Indian fans may have had at the time of Tendulkar's retirement by smashing 116 in the first innings and a classy 96 in the second.

We had just found our No.4 for the next decade.

Kohli continued his form in New Zealand later that winter but as is always the case with the cricket ecosystem, they still had doubts over him.

Because you know, "one simply doesn't become a great Test cricketer unless he has scored runs on green lawns and against a Dukes ball in England".

 

England debacle and the beginning of Kohli 2.0

The 2014 tour of England proved to be a major inflection point in Virat's Test career. Despite having scored runs on seaming tracks against peak Steyn in South Africa, the jury was out on his Test career after he repeatedly failed against the swinging Dukes and James Anderson.

The failure in England had a deep effect on Virat. A proud cricketer that he is, his ego had never been challenged as it did during that summer. People had doubted him before as well, but, here, it was his demons that were affecting him.

He was surrounded by people and yet found himself very lonely. Seeds of doubts had begun to creep in. Ego had been battered.

So, what next?

Generally, a disastrous series like the one Virat had in England, does one of two things: Either it ends careers or it lays the cornerstone for never before seen redemption.

In Virat's case, it was the latter. 

After returning from England, Kohli immediately got in contact with his idol, Sachin, and sought his advice on how to improve his technique against the moving ball.

A few months later, Kohli found himself captaining the Indian team in Adelaide thanks to MS Dhoni's injury.

Now, imagine the scenario! Here is a guy who couldn't buy a run when he last played Test cricket and now he is only up against a quality Australian attack but he has also been tasked with the additional responsibility of leading the team.

But, then, as I mentioned above, Kohli thrives when he is pushed against the wall. It brings out of the best in him, especially when it's against the Australians.

He got greeted with a searing bouncer from Mitchell Johnson at the start of the innings. But, little did Johnson and Australia know what was about to hit them.

On a ground where he scored his maiden Test hundred, Kohli started his captaincy tenure in the grandest way possible as he racked up a classy 115.

But, he wasn't done yet! Neither was India.

The Adelaide Test can now be termed as a major turning point in modern-day Indian Test cricket for a variety of reasons. First and foremost being the fact that Virat showcased he had what it took to lead the team from the front.

But, secondly and most importantly, it also laid the cornerstone for 'win at all costs, no matter what the situation is' approach.

For far too long, the Indian Test set-up was ingrained with the mindset of playing it safe and not being ruthless enough. Remember the 2011 Dominica Test where MS Dhoni decided to shut shop despite India needing just 80 odd runs in 16 overs?

Cut to Adelaide 2014, and here was an Indian captain, who said "We will go all out in pursuit of a victory rather than playing for a sedate draw". And remember the target was 360 odd, that too on a 5th day turner against a rampaging Nathan Lyon.

But, it didn't matter to Kohli. And he ensured he led from the front, again! The champion cricketer smashed a masterly 141 and along with Murali Vijay (99) put India on the brink of an unlikely win.

It eventually didn't happen but, again, the approach of going for the win no matter how bad the situation was, would pay dividends later in the Kohli era.

Kohli went on to smash two more hundreds during that Australian series and by the time the rubber got over, he had become the permanent Test captain following MS Dhoni's shock retirement after the Boxing Day match.

 

And thus started the most beautiful phase of Indian Test cricket

“I strongly want to see the Indian team dominate for at least five or six years. We certainly have the talent. We certainly have the ability. All that it will take is how you manage that and keep them together.’’

Virat Kohli was pretty sure what he set out to do when he took over India's captaincy from Dhoni. India were languishing in 7th spot at the time; their reputation in overseas Tests was at an all-time low, with one of the major reasons for it being a toothless seam-bowling attack. 

His major goal was to make India the best and most versatile Test team in the world.

And, he knew that it couldn't be achieved without a bowling attack that was capable of taking 20 wickets across all conditions. India had the ammunition in the form of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav but to be honest, they had always had skillful pacers in the previous eras.

What they didn't have was a captain who loved pace bowling; a captain who didn't consider seamers as mere filers in home conditions and most importantly, they didn't have a captain who understood that an uncompromising fitness culture was the need of the hour.

They got all these qualities in Virat, and thus started a revolution that would see India not only become the best side in the world but also a team that boasted of a ridiculously good and relentless seam-bowling attack.

There is a belief that captaincy tends to bog down a great player but in the case of Virat, it's the exact opposite. His peak as a Test cricketer coincided with his reign as skipper as he went about churning out runs for fun between 2015-19.

Just like Sachin, Kohli struggled to get daddy hundreds in the first phase of his career but once he breached the 200-run barrier in Antigua ( in 2016) to become the first Indian skipper to score a double away from home, there was no stopping him.

Over the course of the next two seasons in 2016 and 2017, Virat hammered as many as six double-hundreds as India embarked on a ruthless juggernaut en-route to the No.1 spot in Test rankings.

India smashed everyone at home in a prolonged season while beating Sri Lanka (2015 & 2017) and the West Indies (2018) away.

But, Kohli knew that tougher challenges awaited him, both as batsman and as captain with the new overseas cycle on the horizon.

In 2014, Virat's technique took a battering against the moving ball. Four years later, an even tougher challenge awaited him courtesy of excessive seamer-friendly conditions and deeper pace-attacks.

But the Virat of 2018 had learned the art of swallowing his ego. And, he thrived.

In 2018, pace bowlers around the world averaged less than 30 for the first time since 1960, and while the rest of his teammates struggled, the Delhi cricketer produced one masterclass after another.

He was by far the leading run-scorer across both teams in South Africa and England. While his 160 & 123 in Centurion and Perth were an epitome of a batsman at the peak of his powers, his knocks in Birmingham, Trent Bridge and also the one in Johannesburg showed the mortal side of him; someone who was willing to swallow his ego, dig deep, respect the conditions and bowlers before stamping his authority like a King.

2018 saw Kohli at his absolute peak as a Test batsman and he didn't fare badly as a skipper either, although there were major disappointments in South Africa and England.

Even though India failed to win both series’, the way the seamers bowled as a unit and the sides' will to go for the win no matter what the situation or conditions were, stood out. 

India won a Test each in South Africa and England and while they missed out on golden opportunities to win both those rubbers, the cornerstone for future overseas success had been laid.

And, six months later, they went on to build on that cornerstone to script a maiden series win Down Under.

From flipping a bird to the Australian public to earning their respect both as batsman and captain, Kohli had completed a full circle but he wasn't done yet.

Under Kohli, India remained at the No.1 spot for 44 consecutive months and while they lost out on that spot briefly to Australia and then New Zealand in 2020, they regained the same following another series win in Australia and then an annihilation of England at home.

Kohli may not have been a part of the Australian series after the first Test but the approach with which the side went about their business, especially in Sydney and Brisbane, had the mark of Virat written all over it.

The unrelenting, uncompromised desire to hunt for wins even at the cost of a defeat; the never-say-die attitude and the ruthless aggression when confronted by the opposition,  is Virat's biggest gift to Indian cricket; more than the 7932 runs or 27 hundreds or 7 double hundreds or the 40 victories that he led his side in.

And, the biggest examples of it are the two victories that India scripted in England last year, especially the one at Lord's.

"Those 60 overs should feel like hell for them"--- If there ever was one line to sum up Virat - the Test cricketer, it has to be this one.

Virat hasn't scored a Test (or across formats) hundred since November 2019. But despite that, he has played plenty of classics, especially the one in Chennai against England and his most recent knocks in South Africa, where once again he showcased his mortal side.

We don't know whether he'll score his 71st on the occasion of him becoming the 71st cricketer to play 100 Tests. But, we all know that he will complete a century when he steps on the park in Mohali, a venue where he captained India in a home Test for the first time, on March 04.

And, what a glorious century it's been! Right!?

Yash Mittal

Bharat Army Cricket Writer

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