Difficult To Emulate Virat, The Born Leader
THE WEEK|January 30, 2022
Draws were not good enough for Virat Kohli, and this helped him deliver the wins he needed to take India to the top of Test cricket
Karthik Ravindranath

You look at Virat Kohli and you see energy all the time. And yet, Virat Kohli, when he is batting, is a different entity. He is almost lost in his own perfection.

-Harsha Bhogle, The Test (Amazon Prime Video, 2020)

Kohli’s start in Test cricket, however, was less than perfect. In his first three matches, away against the West Indies in June-July, 2011, he scored only 76 runs (in five innings). This led to him being dropped for the series in England in July-August. Though he was later called up as a replacement for the injured Yuvraj Singh, Kohli did not play in the Test series. But, his form in limited overs cricket got him another shot at Tests later in the year. The West Indies was once again the opposition, but this time at home.

The 23-year-old was competing against Yuvraj for the No 6 position and did not get to play in the first two matches. After India won both and claimed the series, Kohli was given an opportunity in the final Test. He took it, scoring 50s in both innings. The next stop was Australia. In the first Test in Melbourne, in December 2011, Kohli scored 11 and zero, as Australia won by 122 runs. In the second Test in Sydney, in January 2012, it was 23 and nine; Australia won by an innings and 68 runs.

But, in the Sydney Test, even as India was getting thrashed by the home team, Kohli had shown something—his middle finger, to be precise. He was fined 50 per cent of his match fee for the obscene gesture, in response to taunts from a section of the crowd. “I agree cricketers don’t have to retaliate. [But,] what when the crowd says the worst things about your mother and sister?” he tweeted about the incident. The ‘finger of defiance’ was perhaps the spark that ignited a raging fire which would engulf world cricket in the years to come.

In his remaining four innings in the series, Kohli scored 44, 75, 116 (the lone century by an Indian in the series) and 22. He was hailed as the only positive in the 0-4 whitewash of India down under. Thirty-five months, 36 Test innings and 1,127 runs later, Kohli returned to Australia. He was appointed Test captain for the first time ahead of the opening match of the series in Adelaide in December 2014, as skipper M.S. Dhoni was out with a thumb injury.

The Adelaide Test gave a clear indication of how a Kohli captaincy would be different. In his first team talk as Test captain, the stand-in skipper told his troops that if anyone was thinking that the Australia series was just about getting “two hundreds or three five-wicket hauls”, that mindset had to change. Off-spinner R. Ashwin was surprisingly dropped in favour of debutant leg-spinner Karn Sharma.

It did not quite work out. Though Karn Sharma took four of the 12 Australian wickets that fell in the match, the Aussies scored at close to five runs an over from his 49 overs across the two innings. It was his last Test. For Australia, off-spinner Nathan Lyon took 12 wickets and won player of the match. Another surprising choice Kohli made in that match, which would later become a trademark of his tenure, was to go for the win.

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