The summer of Kohli

Throwdowns and majestic pulls: Kohli hits the Adelaide nets (1:17)

The India captain batted and bowled at training, entertaining a sizeable crowd at the Adelaide Oval (1:17)

It is unlikely Virat Kohli will go for a pilgrimage to the WACA Stadium when India go to Perth for the second Test of this series. They will be playing at the new stadium instead. Chances are even more remote he remembers WACA Ground's leaky basement gym that often doubled up as the press conference room. Or, actually, he probably does. We will come back to that.

On a bleak day for India, on a proper Western Australian stinker of a day, Kohli revealed perhaps his truest self in a press conference under the dripping pipes in that gym back in 2011-12. Perth can do that to you. Sap you all over, rid you of all mental energy, leave you too exhausted to keep up a pretence.

No video or transcription might be able to tell you this, but those present at the press conference detected a lump in his throat. This was a rookie under extreme pressure, part of a legendary but floundering batting line-up, with the leadership and pundits too scared to question the legends. Captain MS Dhoni didn't want to drop one of the legends, but he also didn't want to damage a young career. Amid calls to drop Kohli for Rohit Sharma, Dhoni persisted with Kohli, who scored 44 out of India's 161 all out in the furnace.

Kohli was sent out to the press conference, the statesmen missing in action again. "I don't know why people were after me even after the first game," he said. "I had scored two fifties before that in the match against West Indies [in Mumbai], and suddenly I was on the verge of being dropped after one match.

"Scoring eight hundreds in one-day internationals can't be a fluke. It's international cricket as well. I don't know why people have been questioning my technique or temperament so much. I have been playing at No. 3 in one-dayers, and I have not gone in to bat in very good situations in all of the 70 [odd] matches I have played. All of this is a learning curve for me. I am playing on difficult wickets, in Australia."

"There has rarely ever been an Indian cricketer who loves the bull's eye on his back this much. In fact he is among the few that don't run away from it. You can question his decisions, but not the intent."

This was raw emotion. Not corporate platitudes that he often speaks these days, which by the way might be necessary given the propensity of the media to stretch every word to its extreme limit for its newsworthiness. This was Kohli rallying against an unfair world, crying out for some patience, revealing a vulnerability. He had flipped the bird to the abusive SCG crowd in the Test before. A rookie was doing what the team's elderly statesmen should have done for him: get the predators off his back.


Kohli will surely go to Adelaide Oval. He went to Adelaide Oval a week after that emotional press conference, and scored India's only century of the tour, no thanks to Zaheer Khan, who slogged wildly first ball, leaving No. 10 Ishant Sharma to see Kohli through to the mark. Kohli went to Adelaide Oval again four years later, and scored twin centuries in an emotion-filled match. He will go back to Adelaide Oval this week with the current best batsman in the world.


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He will also go back as one of the most recognisable faces in world cricket, and in Australia too. Before the recent G20, the German chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly needed a cheat sheet on Australian prime minister Scott Morrison. No Australian needs a cheat sheet on Kohli. Through tabloids they know whether Kohli flew to Adelaide with the rest of the team or not, and if his wife is here or not. On more serious medium, Ryan Harris, Jason Gillespie, Ricky Ponting, John Buchanan, Brett Lee, every current Australian player or part of team management at every press conference, anybody with anything to do with any cricket has been asked about how to keep Kohli quiet in the last week or so.

It is a minor miracle they haven't tried to find out his spiritual guru or his beard trimmer or soy milk supplier just yet. Well if he gets going, it could be a long summer, so don't say you weren't warned.


Two days from this Adelaide Oval Test, India's fast bowlers are putting the batsmen through their paces in the nets. This is a particularly intense session. The pitches are spicier than usual. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma are all in rhythm. They are perhaps bowling big no-balls; it is hard to tell from behind the nets, but they are real fast.

KL Rahul is struggling for timing, M Vijay has been hit on the helmet by Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara is repeatedly getting hit high on the bat. Bumrah bowls to Kohli, who has looked the most comfortable of the lot. The three are about an hour into this bowling session, but the intensity is up. Bumrah gets one to squeeze underneath Kohli's bat. He is caught on the back foot to a ball that stays only a touch low.

"This was the old ball, maybe that's why it stayed low," Bumrah tells Kohli.

"Should I have been forward?" asks Kohli.

"No, it just stayed low."

"If you see anything like that, please point it out. Don't just say it stayed low."

Kohli is aware of all the attention on him. Moments earlier the cameras all perked up when he walked in to the net. The intensity picked up everywhere. Kohli knows of the elevated status that comes with this attention. Perhaps he hasn't always been, but now he seems conscious of that. He is telling bowlers to be honest to him in their feedback.


Many a journalist has made the mistake of judging a player's character by his interactions with them. Yet, in Kohli's case, his interactions are instructive. Kohli doesn't cease being a competitor at press conferences, which by now should be a mundane activity for him. He speaks self-aggrandising PR, but it is easy to rile him up. He remembers who asked him tough questions when he lost, and gets back at them when he wins. It is like he can't help himself get into a sledging contest even with the media.

Imagine the man on the field. He must be a nightmare to compete against. He never forgets anything. He takes offence at the drop of a hat even if it doesn't involve him. Joe Root will know that after Kohli's response to the "bat drop". He is the worst person to lose to. Which is why you can be under extra pressure when playing against him. Because it doesn't end at losing. He will never be sheepish if you drop him. He will rub it in when he gets that hundred or that run-out or that win.

Nobody in cricket today has as much bastard in him as Kohli. Root is embarrassed at celebrations. Kohli is never embarrassed at anything. He is a ruthless and remorseless competitor. He doesn't regret making decisions. You can make bad selections - and he has made a few - but you can't let it affect your performance on the field once you realise it.

There has rarely ever been an Indian cricketer who loves the bull's eye on his back this much. In fact he is among the few that don't run away from it. You can question his decisions, but not the intent. He genuinely believes what he is doing is for the good of Indian cricket. With that righteousness comes anger at those who question him from the outside.

Each one of his questionable decisions, meanwhile, has made the bull's eye on his back brighter. By treating a legend of Indian cricket, Anil Kumble, the way he did, by dropping Ajinkya Rahane in the first Test in South Africa, by becoming the most openly powerful Indian captain, Kohli has to know he has made himself more than a few enemies. He would be extremely naïve to not know he gets what he wants because if or when India lose, he will be blamed. A sample of it was the convenient leak during the England series that Ravi Shastri, the coach who replaced Kumble, has been asked for explanation.

This Australia tour and the World Cup next year remain his two biggest assignments. If India win neither this Test series against a severely depleted Australia nor the World Cup, leaks about Kohli will begin. Kohli still remains convinced about what he is doing. Convinced enough to keep taking that risk.


All this also means Kohli is spending a lot of mental energy on even mundane things. He, though, thrives on it. He loves being in that heightened state of mind. He lives every ball, be it while he is batting, at the non-striker's end or in the field. Mental energy is, of course, finite, but he knows mental energy comes down to physical energy and fitness.

This is where you see how Kohli recognises he was born with a god-given skill, a talent, and that doesn't make him special. Anybody could have been born with that quick eye and the co-ordination to go with it. It is what you do with that skill that makes you. What difference you make. How much better you get than the last generation. For that he pushes himself to the extreme limits to stay fully fit to compete for longer than others.

All his yo-yo tests and special diets came good in the monumental Edgbaston hundred. More than anything, that innings was a testament to his reserves. With the ball seaming and swinging so much, with so much history between him and James Anderson, with another hellish spell from Anderson to survive in which he had to face 43 balls for just six runs, Kohli had to be exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally by the time he started to take control of the innings with just the tail for company.

"To be so detached from the result after having been so intense with the process and the execution is probably Kohli's biggest achievement."

Everybody gets reprieves, everybody enjoys some luck, but the really good ones are fit enough, alert enough, remorseless enough to take advantage of it. Don't let your mind wander and think if you really deserve those runs after the drop. Stay there, live every ball, and make up for the earlier struggles. Out of the 92 runs that Kohli scored with Nos 10 and 11, his partners scored only six. This period of play involved sharp singles to manipulate the strike. Often he pushed the fifth ball of the over straight to mid-off and mocked them by finishing the single. This was an innings of a supremely fit cricketer, who made the most of the luck he had.


There was a lot of analysis of Kohli's luck during the England series. And he, as a batsman, had a fair amount of it; as a captain he lost five tosses. At one point, in the middle of the third Test, Anderson had drawn 53 false shots from Kohli without dismissing him, which is an incredible streak. To put it in perspective, that series produced a wicket for England every 10.41 times an Indian batsman was not in control. Then again, four years previously, Kohli was not in control only 54 times, but that was enough to dismiss him 10 times in that series.

That series was one that left him at his lowest ebb. Such a series can make batsmen go crazy. They can make drastic technical changes and lose their own game. They can wallow in self-doubt. Kohli did nothing of that sort. He knew his game was good enough for flatter conditions, and he wasn't due to face England-like conditions for the next three years. If his defensive poke to wide deliveries is his weakness, it also gives him the confidence to be able to cover-drive later, a shot that brings him tons of runs.

When it came to the tougher conditions at the start of this year, Kohli still didn't put away that shot. He found a way to score runs without dropping that defensive shot and the subsequent cover drives. He concentrated on making his strengths so strong that the bowlers were always under pressure. When you know the cost of missing your length is going to be huge, you are likelier to commit that mistake. There is also realisation in Kohli's game of the part luck plays in sport. His last two England tours are examples.

Athletes talk about making your own luck. It probably means you always be at your physical, mental and emotional best to capitalise on the luck when it does come your way. And don't wallow when you are unlucky. Getting himself to a state where he is philosophical about failure must have been the toughest part for a man as intense as Kohli, but he seems to have mastered it now. To be so detached from the result after having been so intense with the process and the execution is probably Kohli's biggest achievement. Not being so is not an option. Many a batsman has destroyed himself by fixating over the results. Kohli won't.


Two days to go to one of his two most significant challenges as captain - after having lost series in South Africa and England - Kohli is a relaxed man. The focus of the world sits easy with him. He is spending more time talking to the bowlers than on his batting in the nets. There are so many things that can go wrong. He can run into wretched luck, his bowlers can return to old form in Australia, his batting partners can fail, and if any of that happens that philosophical outlook can change because the enemies are growing and the rope is shortening.

His team selections, his power in the board, his field placements, they are all under the scanner. The Australian media is going to try to drive the screw in if India don't win the first Test. Amid all this he has to maintain his batting form. As a colleague of his, Krunal Pandya, put it, he has to keep competing against law of averages.

That brings us back to what Kohli said seven years ago in the leaky WACA Ground gym. Surely he remembers it? Surely, he knew something about the future?

"This is not the end of the world, this is not the last series that is ever going to be played. I have still got to be positive. I have still got to keep working hard and not think about if I am going to get dropped or if someone else is going to play in my place. I really have no control over that. I can only go out and bat. That's all I am going to do."