First up, let me tell you about some biases I have. When I played cricket I was a batsman. I didn’t have a lot of time for the bowling art. They always gave me the hump. So naturally I am going to be biased in favour of batsmen. The two previous winners of a Dmitri for international cricket were Brendon McCullum and Steve Smith. This year, due to a bit of late season / late year bias I have decided that the player that had the most effect on me, and on the cricket landscape from my perspective wasn’t his colleague Ravi Ashwin, but the skipper himself, Virat Kohli. If it were test cricket alone Kohli would be near to the player of the year, if not the winner, but because he scored all those runs, allied to his phenomenal record in ODIs, his more than decent T20 record (yes, a record, by far, in the IPL for runs in a season) and it actually seems ludicrous if he isn’t your player of the year.
I’ll also admit another bias. If you piss off our bleeding hearts, both among the twitterati and the print media, and our precious little players, then yes, you have a little plus point in my eyes. You have to be a total Shane Warne for me to get angry with you. Yes Kohli can be a little punk on the field of play, but when that’s a Ben Stokes or James Anderson we laud their competitiveness and fire. When it’s in the opposition they are an arsehole. Have a think about that for once. I’d love to have Virat on my team.
Virat Kohli had an almost impossible act to follow. The next gun middle order batsman after Sachin Tendulkar had to be something else to even get the praise that the Little Master seemed to attract without, later in his career, any need to actually produce much. Kohli was one of those fighting around to take the mantle over, and yet it took him a bit of time to make his way in test cricket, scoring his first ton in his 8th match. He is 28 and has played around 80 fewer test matches than Alastair Cook, who is four years older by way of comparison. Kohli still has just 4209 test runs, almost 7000 adrift of Cook. Kohli has only just, after a massively phenomenal year, got his test average above 50. In many ways looking at his career test stats, he’s a late bloomer, and yet already he has a tremendous aura about him. Of course, he still has to do it in England, they say. I’ll be interested to see what 2018 brings.
Much of that aura is to do, I think, with the way he contemptuously dismisses everyone in ODI cricket. He averages nearly 53 in the limited over form of the game over his career, and as stated, in 2016 he has been phenomenal. He has 26 hundreds. His record in chases is spellbinding. Creating an aura is a pre-requisite to sustained great performance, because psychologically you fear what a man can do. You fear what Kohli might do to you in the ODI game, and then when the test performances follow, you might start fearing him in his all-round batting game. This year he put it all together.
In 2016 he scored 1215 runs at over 70 with four scores over 100. Three of those were double tons. All of those came in the second half of the year. India did not play a test before July. In 10 ODIs this year, Kohli scored 734 runs at an average of 92.37 with three centuries. In 2016 Virat played 15 T20 internationals, averaging a rather impressive 106.83 (helped by a ton of not outs) and with a top score of 90* in his 641 total runs. That’s not bad, don’t you think?
Then comes that aura. The captaincy of India in the test form has been something to behold. Tactically there might always be some issues, but what leadership has done has appeared to galvanise his resolve as a test bat. We saw it in the five match series, with a potentially test saving innings at Rajkot, an exhibition of vivacious batting in Vizag, a useful half century at Mohali and then the masterclass of Mumbai, a double century that took the breath away. Of course, it would never happened if Adil Rashid……..
He was all over the England team in the field, an aggressive presence, indulging in some back and forth which seemed to upset the cognoscenti. “He is not the most popular player among the England team” was used more than once than my upcoming Dmitri winner, as if this actually matters. I’m sure Kohli couldn’t give a flying one what the opposition think about him. He’s a winner, and he wants to win and attack at nearly any opportunity. Having great wickets at home surely helps, but I can’t forget his performances last time in Australia too, where he looked magnificent. His energetic captaincy is in contrast to MS Dhoni’s test efforts. Where MS seemed not to give a FF about tests and captaincy, especially later in his career, Kohli takes every setback like a personal affront. If Virat Kohli were English, would you not want him as your captain, or would you worry that it might affect his game?
Kohli is the nearest I’ve come to watching Brian Lara. I might actually make a point of stopping everything I reasonably can to watch him bat. He’s that good. Both in terms of ability and fun to watch. Like the other members of the core four – Smith, Williamson and Root – he appears to wield a very long bat. It’s not technical, it’s not any great analysis, but the bat just appears longer in their hands than many others (AB seems to have a short bat to me – it’s nonsense I know, but I hope you get the sort of idea I’m on about). They all seem to be able to wield the willow with a lovely backlift and follow through (Smith, maybe not. He has a technique only his mother could love). Kohli’s bat also seems lightspeed fast. There’s wrist work, but it’s Lara-like, not traditional Indian style. It’s the crack and the pace of the bat that seems special. It’s all pretty woolly I know, but there’s a perception of pure pace when Kohli hits it. He can find gaps, he can manoeuvre fields and shots with the best of them, and he is, when not batting against you, a joy to watch.
He’s also massively, massively important for the game. Virat Kohli evidently loves test matches. He looks as though he relishes his own performances in the elite form of the game and that of his proteges. He wants India to dominate test cricket. He wants to dominate test cricket. It is great he’s a brilliant white ball player, but in a world where test cricket is constantly seen as under threat, it is vital that THE icon in THE largest cricket playing nation does not treat test cricket as a chore. Kohli can fill test grounds. In India. That is massively important for the game. Arguably, from our test-loving perspective, he is more important than Tendulkar and Dhoni. He’s a player we need now, and we need him to be this Virat for a number of years yet.
In retrospect, Virat was a slam dunk for this, wasn’t he? Bias or no bias.