<
>

Virat Kohli is the world's 8th most famous sport star

If cricket required a 21st century mascot to show off the range of batting skills and talents demanded by its varied formats, Virat Kohli would be the straight-out first choice.

He embraces the game's oldest, longest and most demanding format, Test cricket, and remains in step with its most frenetic, Twenty20, and everything in between.

Kohli, No. 8 in ESPN's World Fame 100, is captain, rebel, stormtrooper, match-winner, aspiring statesman all rolled into one; an athlete who tips his hat to Indian cricket's past, acknowledges the roots his own game belongs to, and still grooves to the beat of social media, burgeoning franchise leagues and a confident metrosexuality.

He is counted as one of the game's leading batsmen, though Indian fans would vehemently argue that he is in fact more: its alpha male. Over the last four seasons, he has produced runs, victories and MVP-standard performances in events across the globe, in a sport where success away from home is regarded as the benchmark of quality.

At first glance, Kohli, 27, fits the familiar contemporary image of a celebrity: instantly recognisable, commercially omnipresent, socially sought after. His surprised eyebrows, mischievous eyes and stubbled defiance are visible on hoardings and advertising campaigns all over India.

He has 10.9m followers on Twitter, (just behind the now-retired megastar Sachin Tendulkar), has invested in a nationwide gym chain and a start-up enterprise with footballer Gareth Bale, the highest-ranked British star at No. 12 in ESPN's World Fame 100. Kohli also part-owns a "breakaway-youth fashion" line called "Wrogn", with the tagline: Be Your Own Hero.

In a real-life breakaway from the squeaky-clean image that Kohli's Indian cricket predecessors always veered towards, he unabashedly dated a leading Bollywood actress -- Anushka Sharma -- for a while.

After their break-up, when she was trolled on social media, Kohli was quick to take on the trolls and stand up for his former girlfriend. On International Women's Day, he tweeted an "apology" to Indian women:

Much of Kohli's popularity has to do with the strength of the Indian game and the size of its audience. But that scale rests on his consistency and the continuing improvement in his performances.

He has been playing the game internationally for eight years, leapfrogging his contemporaries in the last five. He remains a committed and hungry competitor, quick to learn, smart enough to not repeat mistakes and completely professional. "Eat, sleep, train, repeat," is his approach.

"If you want to be consistent, you need to be boring with your training, your food and your batting habits," Kohli has said. "You cannot take the sport for granted."

This is the man whose first turn in the spotlight was as an enormously talented but flaky batsman, the abrasive young punk leader of an India under-19 team, who celebrated winning the 2008 ICC Under-19 World Cup with an explosion of profanity. In five months he was playing for India; within a year, he was regarded as an adept 50-over batsman.

When a legendary clutch of Indian batsmen Test left the game, Kohli stepped up to be the leader of the new generation. As a stop-gap Test captain on a tour of Australia, he turned the toughest trip in the international game into a tour de force of the leader he wanted to be and the team he wanted to lead.

In T20, Kohli is the centrifugal force around which success rests. While rooted in conventional basics, he has always sought to expand his batting repertoire in order to change gears, up the tempo and produce low-risk, high-reward stroke play.

All this, and leadership too; Kohli may lead the Indian team in only one of three formats, but the impact of his presence, performance and example has a ripple effect across his peers, who gravitate towards him. He, in turn, seeks to fashion a team -- whether he leads them in Tests, ODIs or T20 franchise cricket -- in his own image: ambitious, unafraid, professional and superfit.

On the field, he is a constantly-developing, situationally-aware batsman with unshakeable respect for his craft. Outside it, he is an articulate clear-thinking young man, who has re-shaped the many moulds that young Indian cricketers believe they must fit into.

Virat Kohli is the zeitgeist.