COLOMBO: Earlier this week during a warm-up game, India's T20 World Cup hopes were nearly 'smashed' when their best batsman, Virat Kohli, received a beamer from Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Sami that would have taken the batsman's head off had it connected. Luckily for India, Kohli somehow managed to avoid getting hit. The very next ball, this brightest jewel in the Indian batting crown showed what he is all about, slamming Sami for a six over long off.
In that game, Kohli played several exquisite strokes, including a 'straight hit' that nearly hit bowler Sohail Tanvir even as umpire Nigel Llong was forced to take evasive action. There was a six over cover off Saeed Ajmal that took one's breath away. Kohli's unbeaten 75 off 47 balls in that match, and his 50 off 39 balls against Afghanistan — his third consecutive fifty in T20 cricket — further drove home the point that he is now the backbone of the batting order. With the openers out of form and the bowling appearing shaky, Kohli offers the brightest ray of hope for Indian cricket.
Kohli has become the first Indian batsman to hit three fifties on the trot in T20s. In ODIs, he hit an 86-ball, unbeaten 133 at Hobart against Sri Lanka, a knock which former Aussie batsman Dean Jones felt was as good as Viv Richards' epic, unforgettable 189. Kohli then smashed 183 against Pakistan: the highest international score against them. In Tests, he won India a game at Bangalore last month with scores of 103 and 51 not out.
Former India skipper Dilip Vengsarkar, who introduced Kohli to international cricket during his tenure as the chief selector, back in 2008 for an ODI tour to Sri Lanka, is a proud man today, having seen his 'pick' come a long way now. "I feel glad seeing him now. Everything about him is impressive. He remained focused on improving his batting. He thinks about his game, and he has done brilliantly in international cricket for himself," Vengsarkar told TOI on Friday from Mumbai. The words of praise don't just stop there. "He has gone from strength to strength and has now become the mainstay of the Indian batting," he adds.
What was it about Kohli that 'clicked' with Vengsarkar? "At the highest level, other than skills and technique, you need mental toughness too. That mental toughness depends from person to person. I saw that toughness in him when he controlled the innings during a game against New Zealand 'A' in the Emerging Players' Tournament Down Under. I had a gut feeling that he would perform well."
Even the Sri Lankans are becoming members of the Kohli fan club. Former Lankan batsman Hashan Tillakaratne, one of the stars of the 1996 World Cup winning team, feels the 23-year-old Delhi lad "is the best young cricketer in world cricket currently." "He looks organized at the crease. He seems hungry and determined for runs," Tillakaratne says.