CHENNAI: On Thursday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) uploaded an interview of Virat Kohli on bcci.tv. It’s 7 minutes and 44 seconds long. Listening to it, Kohli’s biggest legacy is hard to miss. He moulded a team in his own image and, in the process, became India’s winningest Test captain. The kind of words he uses to describe this journey is telling. Proud. Effort. Culture. Environment.
Privilege. Vision. Opportunity. Pride. Empowering. Morals. No, it’s not a random word generator.
On the eve of his 100th Test, it’s a good time to reflect on what Kohli the cricketer did — forget the runs, the centuries and the No 1 ranking — to inspire a team to historic highs, . He put in place a new culture, helped in creating an elite all-terrain bowling unit and refused to back down.
The whole collective became an attack dog under him and nowhere was this more evident than in the final day mayhem at Lord’s last year. On a relatively docile track, Kohli gathered his players and asked them to make England feel like ‘hell’ for all 60 overs. For most of the 99 Tests, the opposition has always felt like ‘hell’ around him.
There was a time when many thought Kohli wouldn’t be able to crack Tests. The underlying numbers, they argued, meant he was always going to be a liability in this format. After his first 11 innings, he was averaging 21.27. On a nightmare tour of Australia, while others wilted, the future skipper stood up.
His first century might have come in a losing cause but it was also a coming of age knock. One prominent cricketer-turned-pundit had wanted the team management to give him one extra match to ‘be sure he does not belong’. Instead, Kohli not only showed he belonged, that was the beginning of a new way of playing Test cricket.
There was the suicidal-yet-thrilling final day chase at Adelaide in 2014 when a then young skipper put the fear of God among the Australians with his devil-may-care century. There was the attack dog mentality against the same opponents in Bengaluru while defending 188.
There was grinding England to a pulp in 2016. South Africa were flattened twice in the space of four years at home. What made these wins all the more special was that Kohli was driving his team with the bat and also marshalling his bowlers effectively on the field. That’s why, it’s hard to divorce his captaincy from his batting. The energy he got from doing one aspect of his job genuinely fed into the other aspect of his job.
It was a roller-coaster ride that changed the face of the red-ball team from also-rans to GOATness. “I have given my heart and soul to this format,” he says in that bcci interview. “It feels great that I was able to contribute to my environment and the culture in bigger ways... If you have an impact on your environment, it’s a matter of pride.”He made his players believe. Kohli took the team and its fans on the crest of a Test wave. “You entered the change room and you knew you could win anywhere.” When he hangs up his whites, that will ultimately be his legacy.
Ever since he wore India’s whites for the first time against West Indies in 2011, he has lived this format. When he realised he wasn’t good enough, he sacrificed comfort. That’s always been his secret. “To be the best version of myself,” like he has said in a lot of press conferences. On Friday, he will walk out for the milestone Test knowing full well he has been that and much more for a vast majority of those games.
In the process, he made his team a sum that’s greater than its parts. “Whole credit goes to Virat for how we have (been) as a Test team,” Rohit said. “I have to take it from where he has left.” If Rohit does half as well, the former will consider his stint a success.