Kohli provides early answer in search for next Tendulkar
India's new batting star is already established as talisman for a team in midst of transition
For more than half a century, Australia indulged in a futile search for the next Bradman. They came and they went and usually they went pretty quickly, unable to match the billing.
The passage of time, the emergence of a great team spanning two decades and Don Bradman's death nearly 12 years ago combined to end the fruitless quest. The realisation dawned that there was and always would be only one Bradman.
A similar exercise is taking place in India: find the new Tendulkar. The difference is that the prey might have been landed at the first time of asking. Virat Kohli is all the rage, the new Tendulkar even while the old one is still going.
Much has been made of India's side being in transition. Two members of their legendary middle order, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, have retired, a third, Sachin Tendulkar himself is at best on the last lap at the age of 39 and may be closer to the finishing line than that. India's most durable opening partnership, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been going through a less prolific patch which shows no sign yet of ending. And then there is Kohli.
He is already a veteran of the one-day international circuit, first playing for India in 2008 when he was 19. In the last year he has become the side's go to batsman, excelling in all forms of the game. Sometimes it seems as though he has forgotten how to get out. In 16 one-dayers this year he has scored 1026 runs at 73.29, in nine Twenty20s he has 376 at 38.58, and more pertinently given what is to follow in the next month he has played nine Test innings at an average of 62.63 with two hundreds.
They are already talking of him as the next captain, a mistake that was made with Tendulkar, who never had enough of the attributes. Kohli is much different in personality from the unassuming Tendulkar –feisty and assertive, he wears his heart on his sleeve.
In Australia last winter, he was up before the beak after responding to barracking from the Sydney crowd with a flourish of his middle finger. When India were eliminated from the World T20 last month he burst into tears on the boundary on realising that their one-run defeat of South Africa would not save them.
India are expected to win this series, if only because of their general impregnability at home. They have won four series in succession, have not lost in 14, or for another eight before that. But they are neither as fit as England nor as well honed. They are taking much on trust because they have done it before but nobody could accuse them of being overcooked.
If India are to win, it is generally recognised that the spin bowling of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, and perhaps of Harbhajan Singh as well, if they think that one bowling basket will do it, must be instrumental. But somebody has to score the weight of runs to make spin bowling viable. India expect that to be Kohli and he is relishing it.
"Now that people expect things from me, I take that more as a pride kind of a thing rather than pressure," he said in the build up to the Test. "I try to put all that confidence into the field."
If there were any doubts about Kohli's ability to make the transformation from limited overs to Tests they were allayed on the ill-starred tour to Australia. The old names all struggled but in Adelaide with the series already lost 3-0, which was about to become 4-0, he scored a defiant yet relaxed hundred, the only one for India. He has added another, against New Zealand, since. In material terms, Kohli has already made it. According to Forbes magazine, he is the fourth highest earning cricketer in the world, behind MS Dhoni, Tendulkar and Gambhir, having pocketed $7.1m last year.
He is in a much-hyped advertisement with the actress Tamannaah an assemblage of India's twin passions, cricket and Bollywood, and the two next big things in both. Whether Kohli makes runs in the next month will make no difference to that in a country where one-day is king but it may confirm him as Sachin's genuine heir.
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