It would not be an exaggeration to state that Virat Kohli has come of age as an international cricketer during India's ongoing tour of Australia. India really haven't had a lot to cheer about Down Under, but one of the few highlights has been Kohli becoming increasingly confident in his talent and abilities.
Kohli has been India's best batsman in Australia, even though it is his first tour to that country; and he showed remarkable courage and determination against Sri Lanka at Hobart on Tuesday to keep his team's hopes of reaching the finals of the Commonwealth Bank tri-series alive.
It is always difficult to chase a target in excess of 300 in one-day internationals, but when it needs to be done within 40 overs, the team batting second needs a combined effort as well as someone to put up their hand and take the responsibility of leading the side over the line. Kohli did just that with his magnificent and well-paced 133 not out off just 86 balls (16 boundaries and two sixes) as India successfully chased the target of 321 set by Sri Lanka in only 36.4 overs with seven wickets in hand. Thanks to their sub-par performances in their previous games, India had to win their last league match inside 40 overs to get a bonus point and pile the pressure on Sri Lanka to earn the right to face Australia in the best-of-three CB Series finals. Kohli looked like a man on a mission when he came to the middle and was understandably delighted when India overwhelmed Sri Lanka and put in their best display of the tri-series; ironically despite the fact they had their backs to the wall at the start of this match.
Kohli's innings also overshadowed Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara's centuries in Sri Lanka's total of 320 for 4. Dilshan flayed India's bowlers all over the ground as he hit his way to a 165-ball 160* that contained 11 fours and three sixes; he also shared a 200-run partnership for the second wicket with Sangakkara (105 from 87 balls). At the break, Sri Lanka would have thought they had put more than enough runs to not only win the match but also book their berth in the finals. But, those hopes were turned to smoke courtesy Kohli and the rest of India's top-order.
While chasing such a daunting target, especially in a crunch match, a positive start is required. And, that's what Virender Sehwag (30 off 16 balls) and Sachin Tendulkar provided as they got India's chase off to a flier adding 54 runs for the first wicket in 6.2 overs. Tendulkar, who scored a 30-ball 39, was the second wicket to fall with India's score on 86 in the 10th over; but the opening batsmen had laid the foundation for a successful chase.
It was important for the momentum set up by the openers to continue; and Gautam Gambhir did just that with his 64-ball 63 and 115-run partnership for the third wicket with Kohli to keep India in check with the required rate. After the fall of Gambhir's wicket, Kohli was joined in the middle by the under-pressure Suresh Raina; and the pair thrashed Sri Lanka's bowlers and found boundaries at regular intervals. Raina played his best innings of the tour as he hit three boundaries and a six in his 24-ball 40* and shared an
unbroken partnership of 120 runs in only 9.1 overs with Kohli for the fourth wicket that hastened India's win.
But, all these were supporting acts to Kohli's stupendous and mature innings. Kohli has shown in the past that he isn't too overawed by pressure and has backed himself to deliver the goods in such situations. That confidence stood him in good stead at Hobart where he was in devastating form and took Sri Lanka's spearhead Lasith Malinga to the cleaners. Kohli scored 44 runs from the 15 balls he faced from from Malinga, including 24 off his seventh over. The sequence of shots in that over read 2 (which got Kohli to his hundred off 76 balls), 6, 4, 4, 4 and 4. The utter disdain with which Kohli despatched Malinga and made him look like a net bowler instead of one of the best pacers in the world, is an indication of his immense self-belief.
COOL AS A CUCUMBER
Kohli was hardly troubled during his innings and Sri Lanka's bowlers ran out of ideas quite soon to either contain or dismiss him. It didn't help their cause that Kohli hit the boundaries almost at will and kept the scoreboard ticking over with his quick running between the wickets which put the fielders under pressure. Kohli scored his runs all over the ground - 54 runs on the off and 79 on the leg side - and hardly played any false shot, which made the task of setting fields for him all the more difficult for Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene.
Kohli had got starts in his last couple of innings, but threw his wicket away by playing reckless shots. At the Bellerive Oval though, Kohli wanted to make his start count and he didn't take too many risks when he first came into bat, but as his innings went on, he started expressing himself and played a number of imperious shots and proved to be too handle to for the Sri Lankans.
The 23-year-old said after the match that this was his best one-day innings, and added his self-belief has been his biggest motivation factor on the Australia tour. "That was the best one-day innings I've played in my career because we needed to pull off a win with a bonus point and we were able to do that so I am really happy with the performance. I have been believing in myself every day and waking up and thinking I belong here and that I can score runs at international level and that's the biggest thing that has kept
motivating me on this tour," Kohli stated.
RARE GOOD CALL
This wouldn't have been the case though had Kohli been dropped after failing in the first two Tests in Australia. The India team think-tank has got many things wrong on this tour, but one of their few correct decisions was to ignore calls for Kohli to be axed and persevere with him for the third Test at Perth. Kohli scored 44 and 75 at the WACA Ground, and he later said it was a pivotal moment in his fledgling Test career. He took that confidence into the fourth match at the Adelaide Oval and scored his maiden Test century (116) even as India suffered their second consecutive whitewash in an away Test series.
Kohli has the passion, talent, ability and determination to have a long and successful international career; but he really needs to control his emotions and body language on the field as it detracts attention away from his undoubted cricketing abilities. Kohli has been involved in some heated exchanges with the fans in Australia, and in one such incident, he showed his middle finger to the crowd on the second day of the Sydney Test and was fined 50 percent of his match fee as a result. He also needs to get out of the habit of using cuss words while celebrating, and instead let his cricket do all the talking for him.
He has been hailed by his team mates and former cricketers alike in the past, who see him as a future India captain. A day after Kohli scored his maiden Test hundred, former India captain Ravi Shastri said, "Virat’s passionate and he’s got that hunger... He has that want to succeed... He wants to compete against the best and to do well against them... It’s there within him."
Kohli has everything in his favour; he just needs to focus on continuing his growth as a cricketer, being a role model and playing an important role in Indian cricket as it faces a tricky transition phase.