Virat Kohli is an original. He doesn’t remind me of any of my favourite batsmen from the past. He is second to none in the ease with which he moves from one form of cricket to another, perfectly comfortable in all three formats of the game.
I first saw him in the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), and was immediately impressed by his poise and ability to innovate. His driving on the off, with its unusual follow-through, had me worried that this aspect would probably cause him grief in the long run. But that has been belied since.
This short-arm-jab-like drive has almost disappeared from his repertoire, but when he does resort to it, he does it with aplomb. His temperament is monumentally calm. If there were occasions in the past when he appeared to be distracted by on-field verbal skirmishes, he seems more controlled now.
Kohli watches the ball extremely closely as all great batsmen do, and his judgement of length and almost intuitive ability to find gaps in the field are superb. He is a complete batsman – he is secure in defence, possesses attacking shots all round the wicket, and runs brilliantly between the wickets. He paces his innings well, apparently knowing exactly when to step on the gas. His fielding and catching betray amazing reflexes and extraordinary preparation.
If I must compare him with players from the past, the precision of his on-side play reminds me of Sunil Gavaskar, but Sunil knew where his off stump was better than Kohli seems to know his. This, besides the need to play with softer hands when the ball is moving around, is probably the one technical adjustment Kohli needs to make him a better batsman in England than he is now.
For all my favourite batsman Rahul Dravid’s mastery at one drop, Kohli tends to inspire greater confidence as soon as he arrives at the crease in the same position. Like the other greats of Indian batting, he too is wristy, but cannot equal VVS in his elegance, nor GR Viswanath in the steely power with which he whipped the ball away on the on side – off the back or front foot.
He has almost every shot in the book, and if he could sweep and play the cut over third man, he could be Sachin Tendulkar’s equal in strokemaking. Come to think of it, unlike Viswanath or Dravid, he does not square-cut that much, does he? He doesn’t seem to be affected by personal milestones – no nervous nineties for him – and that’s one area in which he is clearly superior to Tendulkar.
Will Kohli break every batting record there is? Will he master English conditions? Will he win more matches off his own bat than any other Indian batsman? I suspect he will, sooner rather than later. For, he has arrived at a stage in his cricket career that appears meditative, almost spiritual in its sense of balance.