indian cricket

Preview: The age of Virat Kohli begins for India in ODIs, with a need for immediate impact

The clock is already ticking down, first to the Champions Trophy in June and, then, to the 2019 World Cup.

Virat Kohli had a brilliant 2016. He racked up runs like it was nobody’s business and proved why he is arguably the best batsman in world cricket today. As Test captain, he had an immaculate year too, going unbeaten against three opponents and overseeing his team’s climb to the No. 1 ranking.

Even so, his contribution to Indian cricket at present cannot be measured in runs or wins alone. Well, not anymore. They do not reflect the true picture of what he has already achieved, and how much more is still left. You need something extra, perhaps a few effusive words, indicating what his presence on the field means to those around him or those watching from beyond the boundary line.

Untiring, passionate, robust, compulsive, resolute, animated – you can reel them in, one after another, each stepping onto the other and producing a circle of intersection. That is Kohli today – a giant star, not in terms of popularity, but his aura, like a galactic body that attracts all else to revolve around itself. He is the sun, and everyone else is a planetary body, big or small, running concentric circles around him.

Dawn of a new era

And finally, this star has risen in all its glory. The age of Virat Kohli dawns on Sunday as he assumes control of Indian cricket as captain across all formats. With his blade and leadership both, he will shape the game’s direction in this country for many years to come.

Until now, Kohli’s journey has been a descriptive “process”, in the words of his predecessor. Whether as a batsman or a leader in one format, it was about grasping more knowledge and adding on to his experience at the highest level in order to reach the pedestal he is on today. It can be said that Kohli’s path until this very point was charted for him in one way or another, and from here onwards, the road ahead is mighty unpredictable. Oddly enough, this isn’t a scary thought but a stirring moment for any Indian cricket aficionado.

It isn’t just about the aggressive opponent in this first series as ODI skipper. It isn’t about an unburdened MS Dhoni either, relieved off his leadership duties and ready to take flight once again, albeit in a manner befitting his twilight years. Some part of this hushed anticipation about Kohli’s impending take-over is indeed a summation of these two aforementioned factors.

A majority of it, though, is in balancing expectations with achievements. As Test captain, Kohli has already outdone Dhoni’s second half of captaincy in the longer format. And this is an enthusing premise, for Kohli now boasts of a team rich in experience and certified in quality. It is as if time has been reset, and he stands at the same stage as Dhoni did in 2010-’11. The only difference being that the way forward was a downward spiral for him as Indian cricket hit a transition period.

At the cusp of greatness

Alternately, Kohli stands at the cusp of achieving a greater height. Unbeaten in 18 consecutive Tests, there is already talk of how this Indian team can be the best ever. Maybe they will achieve that goal, maybe they won’t – at least they are in a position to aim for it. Most importantly, this self-belief clearly trickles down to the shorter formats.

“The kind of cricket we have played in Test cricket so far, and what we have achieved, it can be replicated in the ODI format as well,” said Kohli in Pune, ahead of the first ODI against England. “It is tougher leading in Test cricket because you always have to be aware of what’s happening. But in limited-overs, the opposition can make mistakes on their own.”

This is where a keen difference creeps in. When Dhoni left the Test arena, he handed over a well-moulded squad. Those players stood at the end of a learning curve, both individually and as a unit, ready to push the envelope further. So much so, a properly strengthened bench has allowed Kohli to change his playing XIs as per conditions, strength of opposition and even whimsical fancy.

The Indian ODI team at present is anything but settled. The bowling attack looks stable, for a change, but with regard to their traditional strength in limited-overs, the batting line-up is completely muddled. The team management is unaware what its best opening combination is, especially with Rohit Sharma still recovering from injury. The middle-order is a mess, and that is a mild way of putting it. Much depends on where Dhoni will bat, and also what sort of form Yuvraj Singh is in.

Immediate challenge

This squad will make mistakes aplenty. It represents an immediate challenge for Kohli, as he has only three matches to beat this haywire bunch into some semblance of a proper team for the Champions Trophy in June.

“We are taking these three games as knockouts. We are not taking them as trial games. We cannot experiment much before the Champions Trophy. We need to get all our resources in place before that big tournament,” he said on Saturday.

Already then, Kohli’s core competency is at its forefront. There is certain intensity in his words, which asserts that he understands the job at hand. Perhaps, he also realises that there is more glory to be had in shorter formats, wherein the number of World Cup and World T20 trophies in your cabinet is the only definition of success. Test cricket, in the guise of never-ending bilateral series, doesn’t boast of that clarity.

And so, the Kohli era begins with a need for immediate impact. The clock is already ticking down, first to the Champions Trophy and then to the 2019 World Cup. This is where his true influence on Indian cricket will be measured.

Expected XI for first ODI: KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (captain), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.

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