Watch him strike the ball—driving on the up, feet and hands and forearms in fearful symmetry, head still, and where can the leather go but to the boundary. Or he’s standing on tip-toes, his wrists doing a magical pirouette, and the ball’s raced at a blurry speed to the ropes. And, wait, did he just scoop a ball from near his legs with some bizarre, improvised shot that’s gone yards over the line, and he’s in Test whites?
Yes, he did. That’s because Virat Kohli can do just about anything with the bat, and he’s only just started. At 24, he has already had five dazzling years in One Day International (ODI) cricket. In 2010, he finished second in the top run-scorers list in ODIs for the year, in 2011 he topped the list, and helped India to its second, delirious World Cup win. In 2012, he’s third on the list of ODI top-scorers, despite having played half the number of matches that the two batsmen above him have played.
“It feels good to play well,” Kohli says, “but I needed to really prove my worth in Test cricket, I have been dying to do that for two years now, and I’m happy that it’s started happening.”
It has been leading up to this: The brash, physical, and incendiary performer of the past few years can now also boast of a calm, rock-solid Test temperament. 2012 is the year when Kohli really found himself; where he could straddle all formats of the game—ODIs, T20s, and Tests—and triumph in all. The year that India’s former cricket legends were so impressed by his abilities and his fearlessness that they asked him to be made captain. The International Cricket Council (ICC) gave him the award for the ODI Cricketer of the Year.
But his favourite moment of 2012 is his third Test century (all three of his Test 100s have been scored this year), against England in Nagpur this month. “That’s the one I was waiting for,” Kohli says. “I knew it would happen, and the more time I spent at the pitch, the happier I felt.”
Though Kohli says he does not believe in setting goals, the pressure to perform will now only increase for the young batsman. There’s nothing he could have wanted more. “I thrive under pressure,” he says. “Sometimes I feel that without it, I can’t really play. I want to be the person people expect great things of, nothing less than that.”
As the Indian team enters its most painful phase of transition (the old stalwarts are all retired or retiring), it will fall on Kohli’s shoulders to steady the load.