Both his technique and temperament are sound. Against spinners, his footwork twinkles. “Kohli’s bat-swing, however, is not quite how the coaching manuals say it ought to be,” former India opener and author Aakash Chopra has written.
“He has a relatively short backlift, and an even shorter follow through. But he generates phenomenal bat speed by flicking his wrists at the point of contact, which in turn generates immense power.”
Kohli has said that he learned from watching Rafael Nadal the need for and importance of meticulous, almost ritualistic preparation.
On court, Nadal lines up his water bottles alongside his chair in a particular way. Before each serve, comes a sequence of tics: a swipe of his forehead; a flick at a lock of hair; the bounce of the ball a certain number of times; the pulling of his shorts at the bum. Repetition instils a sense of structure, a feeling of calm amid the storm of emotions and incidents that swirl around the player at the top level of international sport.
Before facing each ball, Kohli goes into a long, slow wind-up. He twirls his bat, held between both gloved hands and pointing upwards, five, six times. It is like the twirl of a racket that a tennis player habitually does; only, while the racket is kept horizontal, parallel to the ground, Kohli’s bat is perpendicular to the ground. He then screws up his nose, turning his face into a grimace.With his thumb, he prods the visor of his helmet. Only after that does he settle into his stance. His eyes blaze with a brooding intensity. The tics are ungainly, agitated, but the shotmaking that follows is sumptuous.
There is no proper cricket shot that Kohli cannot play. Given his wristy dazzle, he prefers to play his shots on the leg side. His “bread and butter shot”, Sharma feels, “is the flick off his legs or hips”. But his cover drive is emphatic, imbued with poise, balance, superb transfer of weight, power and control. His pulls off the front foot – the bat coming down at just the right angle, slapping the ball down in front of square, or swivelling to tuck it away behind square – are joyously executed.
On occasion, when he is really set and the shots are flowing, it seems as though the only way to get Kohli out is for Kohli to get himself out.
“The one area in which he needs to improve is playing the cut shot against fast bowlers,” Sharma told me. The other area is working on changing the perception of the bad boy image. The perception has changed over the years – in part because Kohli’s play has been so scintillating, his batting has been so central to India’s performance. Besides, Kohli has matured compared to the teenager he was when he won the Under-19 World Cup.
He is still unafraid to show his emotions on the field, but that in itself is no bad thing. It adds an edge of intensity and resolve to his play, an aggressiveness and show of intent that tells the opposition – however famed – that he means business and is not to be trifled with. Not crossing the line into petulant, brattish behaviour is what Kohli must watch out for, especially given the fact that it seems a matter of when rather than if that he becomes captain of India.
“I keep telling him that he should follow the example set by Sachin,” Sharma said. “He should learn from Sachin’s attitude and humility, the way in which Sachin conducts himself in public. Virat is a huge fan of Sachin’s. He now realises the importance of how he behaves on the field or in the public eye. I am sure he will learn from Sachin.”
His place in the Test team established in January 2011, Kohli embarked on a series of batting displays that allowed him to stake his claim as one of the most dependably destructive batsmen in contemporary cricket.
Right after the Perth Test, he blitzed an unbeaten 133 off eighty-six balls at Hobart to give India a sniff at reaching the final of the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank series, which also featured Sri Lanka and Australia. It was one of Kohli’s most audacious exhibitions till then, precise, controlled and full of conviction, anchoring what was at the time the quickest 300-plus chase in the history of ODI cricket.
His next innings, again against Sri Lanka at the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, brought another hundred. In that 2012 tournament, as India failed to reach the final, Kohli scored two hundreds in three outings, the second being a barnstorming 183 against Pakistan, his highest in ODIs. He scored it off 148 balls, and was the dominant force in a run chase of 330, India’s highest at the time. (That record would soon be broken, and Kohli would have a masterful hand in its breaking.) Starting with Hobart, he had cracked three centuries in four ODI innings.
In Tests, he made centuries in every series he played in: against New Zealand, England, and Australia.The hundreds against England and Australia came in back-to-back Tests. In not one of the last four Test series before the one against West Indies in November 2013 had he gone without a century.
There then came two innings that cemented Kohli’s reputation as the master of the epic ODI chase, clinical, composed and ruthless. In October 2013, at Jaipur, Australia set India 360 to win. India chased the target down with thirty-nine balls remaining, and won by nine wickets. It was India’s highest-ever successful chase, and the second highest-ever in the history of the game. Kohli scored 100 not out, an innings of blistering strokeplay in which the intensity never abated. His 52-ball 100 was the fastest ever by an Indian in ODIs. Thirteen days later at Nagpur, batting first,Australia scored 350.This time around India won with three balls to spare, Kohli’s 66-ball 115 the piece de resistance of the sizzling effort.
Through that series and afterwards, Kohli’s assaults on the bowling have come to assume a pattern.
(The pattern existed even in his previous hundreds, but it had now become easier to discern.) He starts the innings in a circumspect manner, pushing out of his mind the idea of playing big shots no sooner than he is in. He never skimps on the singles and twos. Only when set, does he go for the fours and sixes.
Unlike, say, Shahid Afridi, he does not slog. All his shots are orthodox ones, gilded by the particular kind of flourish that he imparts to them. He relies on his technique, his timing, his placement. He takes few risks. He is nerveless. Watching him play is all the more thrilling because he accrues phenomenal results while keeping his approach and manner so orthodox and risk-averse.
Kohli put it down to sharpening his fundamental technique.
“If you have worked on your technique properly, you can back yourself to hold your position and hit where you want to,” he said. “That plays a major role. You need to have a strong technique to play the big shots. I keep working on that in practice sessions. I just hold my position, just middle the ball and time it properly in the practice sessions.”
It sounds a simple enough theory, a coaching cliché, but to do it with such consistency requires you to be a player the likes of whom there are not too many of. If that were not to be the case, if it were a question of translating a simple theory into straightforward action, lots of batsmen would have been doing it. They aren’t. And Kohli is. That says it all.
Excerpted with permission from After Tendulkar: The New Stars of Indian Cricket, Soumya Bhattacharya, Aleph Book Company.
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