Kohli, shedding kid gloves in an emphatic way

Cricket: After an uncertain period, the Delhiite seems to be finding his way at top level

Kohli, shedding kid gloves in an emphatic way


Boy dynamo: India’s Virat Kohli displayed his newly-attained maturity en route to his maiden one-day century against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens on Thursday. AFP

As his number one ICC ranking among batsmen in Tests suggests, his exploits in the longer version of the game have been scintillating in the past one year or so. But his performances in the one-dayers have been second to none.

En route to his match-winning 150 against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens on Thursday, Gambhir once again underlined his status as arguably the best Indian batsman today, but Virat Kohli’s maiden one-day hundred, arrived a ball earlier than Gambhir’s on the same night, caught as many eyes.

The fact that the knock came in a pressure-cooker situation was an indicator of his big-match temperament. Not for a moment the youngster looked bogged down by the occasion on his way to what should rank as one of his most memorable knocks in his fledgling career. Not for a moment did one felt the absence of MS Dhoni or Yuvraj Singh as the Delhi duo combined in style to steer India to a famous win.

“We have fantastic bench strength now,” said Gambhir, who many tip to lead India in the future.

“It’s always nice to have the likes of Dhoni and Yuvraj around, but we have the players to ensure we don’t feel their absence. Virat came in place of Yuvraj and got a 100 which shows his character. He has played a lot of domestic cricket and has got the experience to do well at this level,” he noted.

Come to think of it, Kohli isn’t any stranger to excelling under demanding situations. He had proved his fortitude as a mere 17-year-old while bailing out Delhi against Karnataka in a Ranji Trophy match in 2006 braving the personal tragedy.

Delhi were heading towards follow-on at 59 for five in pursuit of Karnataka’s 446 and Kohli was on 40 when the second day’s play drew to close. Kohli’s ailing father breathed his last early next morning.

Despite the great personal loss, Kohli decided to turn up for the game and in the company of Puneet Bisht, who went on to score a century, stroked his way to 90 helping Delhi manage an honourable draw.  It is precisely for this reason that one wonders as to why, in the subsequent years, the youngster failed to keep his head firmly above his shoulders.

The fame and the riches that followed in the immediacy of the Youth World Cup victory and the Indian Premier League may have played their part and the celebrity status that comes along with being an Indian cricketer may have been too much handle for the youngster. There was, however, never a doubt about his talent. It’s just that he needed to channelise his youthful energy in the right direction.

The Emerging Players’ tournament in Australia, in a way, provided him the second wind. After guiding India ‘A’ to victory with a swashbuckling century against South Africa ‘A’, Kohli earned his maiden call up to the national one-day squad for the tour of Sri Lanka in September 2008.

The right-hander earned sporadic opportunities mainly as a replacement for injured or rested players, but in a highly clogged batting order it was important to grab those chances and make strong statements. In the last one week Kohli has done it twice. In Nagpur, filling in for the injured Yuvraj Singh, he carved out a half-century in India’s 301. He had to sit out in the Cuttack game as Yuvraj was included in the side to bolster the middle-order in the absence of banned MS Dhoni, but with the left-hander out after aggravating his finger injury, Kohli got to play in Kolkata and he couldn’t have come up with a better knock.   
      
By playing the crucial role in India’s win with a century, Kohli has only complicated the matters when the team management sits down to pick the 11 for the final game in Delhi on Sunday. With MS Dhoni all set to return after serving a two-match ban, it will be interesting to see how the management goes about forming its combination. But it’s a happy headache to have nonetheless.

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