Is there a more prominent personality than Virat Kohli in the sporting world right now? The question might appear daft, and some might ask, ‘what about your Lionel Messis, Steve Smiths or (insert random American sportsman here)’? Well firstly, we would point out that people who talk about sportsmen in the plural like that tend to be idiots whose opinions can be safely discounted, and secondly we would point out that none of them hold a candle to our man Virat. Not even Sir Steve of Smith. Yes, Kohli is that important right now.
When you take a sporting team passionately followed by a population of over one billion, strip it of three or four of its most prominent members, and then replace them in the public eye with just one player, that person really needs to be the real deal. We know all about pressure here at 51allout. The tight deadlines, the dwindling alcohol supplies (seriously Kingfisher, what gives?), all the while with Editor Steve standing over us, willow in hand. It all creates an atmosphere of unrelenting, torturous pressure. But we’re happy to admit that even that must seem like nothing compared to what Kohli must face each and every day as the great hope of Indian cricket. Considering how well he has coped with the pressure so far, if we were of a puerile mind, we would say the man in question must shit diamonds.
With so many members of the Indian team that rose to number one in the Test rankings not too long ago (although honestly it feels like decades now since India were good at Test cricket) on the decline or already gone from the team, Kohli has stood out as the one bright spot of Indian cricket. Currently ranked the 35th best Test batsman in the world, Kohli’s position would surely be higher if India had played more Test Cricket in the recent past. In One Day Cricket, which India can seemingly never get enough of, he is the second best batsman in the world.
His career has been on the ascent ever since the third Test of India’s ill-fated (which is a nice way of saying frankly rubbish) tour of Australia twelve months ago. Up till that point his Test average was around the 30 mark, and after back to back failures at the SCG, there was quite a bit of talk that his position within the squad was under threat. After a strong showing at the WACA, where he was the only Indian batsman to perform at least somewhat competently, he followed up with his début Test century in Adelaide, which he celebrated by telling Peter Siddle and co exactly what he thought of their mothers.
Since the Perth Test Kohli has averaged a little over 60 in Test Cricket. Considering that over this same period Sachin Tendulkar has averaged a little under 30, it’s not hard to see how Kohli has so quickly risen to become India’s most important player. It’s a mantle that even Sachin rarely had to carry alone, being surrounded by players like Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, and of course Rahul Dravid. But for the time being at least, it seems Kohli must bear that responsibility on his own. Just looking at some of the other players trying to follow his lead and establish themselves in the Indian Test team, like Suresh Raina, tells the story. With nobody else looking likely to emulate Kohli’s success any time soon, he has to plough a lone furrow in an increasingly second rate Indian middle order.
This article isn’t just an excuse to wallow decadently in the greatness that is Virat Kohli however (and we’ve so far avoided mentioning just how damn attractive he is as well). It’s also intended to point out that if England want to succeed at something in India for the first time since 1857 (Editor’s note – apologies for Matt’s appalling taste in 155 year old satire), then Kohli is their main obstacle. Forget about Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. Sure, the English batsmen will do their level best to make the Indian spinners look a damn sight better than they actually are (a task they managed spectacularly well against Rangana Herath earlier this year), but Kohli remains their most important opponent.
If England manage to get on top of the free scoring Kohli then they have are halfway to beating India. Despite Virander Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir claiming an admittedly impressive opening record on home decks, they’re hardly an inspiring pair at the moment. And whilst we would never write Sachin off completely, if Tim Southee can knock him over then surely one of the English bowlers can manage it. Which realistically leaves Kohli standing between the English batsmen and a total they should feel confident of chasing down. But even more important than that, if they manage to knock over Kohli early, it would really rob India of momentum. Sachin’s wicket was usually prized above all others in India, now, you feel, it’s Kohli’s. Dominate him, and suddenly India look a far less daunting opponent to overcome.
Of course, at the end of the day England will do a fine job of beating themselves and making ordinary opponents look extraordinary. But if by some bizarre twist of fate they find themselves approaching this series in a somewhat competent manner, then Kohli is the one player they simply must overcome if they want to go home with anything other than a few snap shots of the Taj Mahal and a extra couple of chapters for Kevin Pietersen’s impending coaching manual for young cricketers, “The Doos & Don’ts of World Cricket”.