In a different, parallel universe, wouldn't Virat Kohli fit right in as a young "import-export" businessman in Delhi? Driving to work in a black Skoda, wearing sunglasses and a bright V-neck leaving little to the imagination in terms of pectoral cleavage. Maybe he'd pick a fight with the street side ice-cream vendor, maybe mouth off at a bystander. Constantly changing lanes, honking away. He'd be That Guy. God, I hate Virat Kohli.
I mean, I don't actually hate him. He's never done anything to me, and if I ever see him in real life, I'm sure I'll shake his hand if he offers, and I'll take a #DuckFaceSelfie with him too. What I have for him is more an academic contempt. I dislike him on an intellectual level because I find his off-the-field (and on) persona obnoxious. Odious, even.
When I think about it though, I get that these are juvenile, mostly imaginary reasons. It might just be his face that rubs me the wrong way. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I sometimes find myself actively rooting against him, hoping for him to get out or drop a catch, even if Team India Sponsored by Pepsi Sahara Nike Bata Levi's Star Sports Haldiram Britannia All Out Power Slider Mosquito Bleed Blue are in a precarious situation, in the odd game I happen to chance upon. It's okay, since my patriotism is mostly limited to the occasional Ind-Pak game and hating anti-nationals, but it's still not very nice.
That's when I realise that, in fact, Kohli is symbolic of a new kind of India that I sometimes have trouble accepting. It's a (sad?) reminder that we are no more a tragic failure as a sporting nation (well, in cricket anyway). There's been a changing of the guard. I think back to the days of the Tendulkar-Dravid-Ganguly-Laxman nexus and I think of sporting romance. Impeccable technique and exquisite talent offset by an inability to be natural winners (something Ganguly tried to rectify, to be fair). Always cowering to the opposition, recoiling, giving too much respect.The inferiority was internalised.
Tendulkar would play his balls off, while the team around him would crumble. Dravid was the wall in a building of open doors. India would make it to the World Cup semis, and then, with home advantage no less, choke, and the crowd would turn on them. 120/8. Is there anyone who wasn't moved by Vinod Kambli's tears when the Eden crowd got the semi-final abandoned in '96?
It turns out that the reason I dislike Virat Kohli is the very reason I shouldn't. He is a stand-in for a new, resurgent India, one that doesn't thrive in being glorious flops. Sure, he's a wind-up merchant who seems to suffer from a universal affliction (rampant in Delhi) called the Male Ego. Symptoms include a love of the gym, unnecessary agitation/aggression, wild levels of testosterone, a grating persecution complex, and atendency to pick fights at the drop of any kind of headgear.
You pick up too many dumbbells and you will soon enough become appropriately dumb. This is the same guy who wanted to beat up a journalist whom he mistook for a different journalist altogether. He was ready to fight some meatheads in the crowd who called him names (yet we still make fun of Inzamam).
He's a sore loser, and he's also a sore winner. But - and this is a crucial interjection - it shows a sense of fight and heart that's present in him as a sportsman. Of course it filters into his existence as a regular human being (which pisses me off), but can you ever truly separate one from the other?
Without resorting to hyperbole, Kohli is one of the finest batsmen of his generation - watching him in his elements (and he's in them more often than not) is a thing of genuine beauty. He has that perfect blend of craft, application, and aesthetics, with a very unIndian aggression setting him apart. He'll even sledge if he has to. Remember Dravid taking on Michael Slater, and how liberating that was? Or Ganguly waving his shirt around like a moron? Kohli is like that, except all the time. Even when he's asleep.
Gone is the colonial hangover, the xenophilia, the automatic deference to the white man (or any colour, actually). No more bending over. He's reached 25 ODI centuries in a mere 162 innings, beating Tendulkar's record of 234. Crucially, he's a big-game player whose highlights often coincide with an Indian win (21 of his 25 centuries have been victories, even if the Test record doesn't quite match up); he's gifted, of course, but he's also great when the chips are down, perfect for we're chasing down a big score.
One of his most memorable innings came against Sri Lanka, in the tri-series in Australia in 2012, where he notched an impressive 133 of just 86, ensuring India chased down 321 in under 40 overs to make the final. He's hot-headed, but oddly enough he's also ice-cool under pressure, so his Test captaincy, and imminent ODI captaincy as well, are no surprise.
There's the 183 against Pakistan, chasing 330; the ridiculous 52-ball century up against Australia's 359; it's a long list, indicating not only the talent but also the mental resolve. (I'm excluding his T20 record because otherwise I'll have to also include Hong Kong Super Sixes, school cricket scores, street cricket scores, book cricket scores.)
I'm not suggesting that Kohli started this - Ganguly, John Wright, and, later, Dhoni seem to be responsible for that. But he's a flagholder for that spirit. An alarm bell - annoying no doubt, but also important - to wake you up from a slumber of despair, and remind you that things are different now.