Virat Kohli’s 117 against West Indies in the second One Day International (ODI) of the five-match series on 2 December in Visakhapatnam is another innings that adds to the growing evidence that Kohli is the fastest rising young cricketer in India.
Since his ODI debut in 2008, the 23-year-old Delhi batsman has grown in strength. In 2010, he finished the year as the highest Indian run scorer in ODIs (with 995 runs at an average of 47.38) and the second highest in the world (after Hashim Amla). In 2011, with even more runs and a crucial role in India’s triumph in the ICC World Cup, Kohli is on the verge of repeating the feat.
Testing ground: With his 2010 ODI record and spectacular performance in the ICC World Cup 2011, Virat Kohli is all set to repeat his feats on the Australia tour. By Aijaz Rahi/AP
Lying beneath Kohli’s sparkling ODI form is a deep desire to mature into a Test batsman with a guaranteed place in the Indian squad. His first venture in Tests was forgettable—he scored 76 runs in three matches in the West Indies in June-July. Kohli learnt quickly though, scoring 52 and 63 in a Test match against the West Indies in Mumbai in November to stake his claim to the coveted No. 6 spot in Tests, which is yet to find a steady occupant since Sourav Ganguly’s retirement three years ago.
Now comes the trial by fire—the four-Test tour of Australia from 15 December, a trip that is known to make or break Test careers. Kohli speaks about the expectations in an interview. Edited excerpts:
You have always spoken about wanting to be a core part of the Test team. After the West Indies tour, do you think you have bounced back to claim your place again?
It’s been tough for me, especially after that series in the West Indies. It’s difficult; when you think you’re going to do well in a format and then you don’t in your first series. It takes a lot to get back on track, thinking about that format again. Luckily, we’ve played many ODIs and I scored a lot. That helped me get back my confidence. I have been in good form and that helped me gear up for Test cricket again.
One of my mistakes in the West Indies was that I got too desperate. I wanted to cement my place so badly that it messed up my mindset. This time, I just want to enjoy my game and score some runs.
How would you view your performance against the West Indies, especially in the Mumbai Test match?
I am happy we won the series. I thought I might get an opportunity in the series and that it would be in Mumbai. Luckily, I was able to do well in that game (Kohli scored half centuries in both innings). I am learning every day in Test cricket and it was satisfying to put in some sort of a performance.
A tour of Australia is always a wonderful opportunity for any youngster who is working towards a place in the Test side...
I’ve spoken to a few players who said their attitude changed completely after they played in Australia. It happened to me in South Africa. I went for the ODI series and saw the Tests being played on bouncy tracks against a good bowling attack. I ended up scoring runs there and my attitude towards the limited overs game changed. I am looking at Australia as an opportunity to transform myself into a better Test cricketer.
Do you have a mentor in the dressing room who is helping you find your feet in Test cricket?
They are all really helpful. There’s no one who doesn’t like to speak to the younger players. That’s one big positive in the Indian dressing room. I spoke to Sachin Tendulkar before this Test and told him what difficulties I had in the West Indies, about how I was thinking too much about Test cricket. He asked me to stay as busy as possible so that I wouldn’t think too much about the game and would instead enjoy my batting. That advice helped me a lot before this match.
How has it been working with coach Duncan Fletcher?
He’s been really patient with the team because it’s not easy for a coach to come in after what Gary (Kirsten) has done with the team for four years. It’s much more comfortable for him now. He’s probably become used to what the dressing room is like and what players like in the dressing room. He enjoys himself now because we just keep joking around all the time and keep the dressing room atmosphere relaxed.
Rupha Ramani is a senior sports correspondent with CNN-IBN.
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