The King and I
I was born and raised in Calcutta and then later lived in London. Both cities arguably have the finest cricket stadiums of their country, Eden Gardens in Calcutta and Lords in London. I was at Eden Gardens when we scripted the historic win over Australia, the VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid show! I was at Eden Gardens for the epic Hero Cup series, for those too young who might not remember, Anil Kumble had taken 6/12 against the West Indies in a game, and the final against South Africa saw Sachin Tendulkar bowl an epic final over where he defended the impossible! Eden Gardens has seen some of the most incredible cricket to be played in India and having been to every home game played there (between 1987 to 2003), it made me an extremely passionate cricket fan. Sometimes, I wonder why I find it difficult to store otherwise important information in my head and then I realize that a lot of my memory storage has been taken up by cricket statistics and Bollywood lyrics from the 1990’s. I’m certain that there is no way to delete this information. Yes, I have tried.
India won the U-19 ICC Cricket World Cup in 2008 and I was pumped! So pumped was I that I sent a message on Facebook to the captain of the team, some dude called - Virat Kohli. Let’s be honest – there aren’t too many from the U-19 circuit that make it big and I didn’t have the greatest of expectations of the then U-19 Indian captain either. So, I wrote to him. He didn’t reply but I know he read the message (thank you, social media). Over the years, my friends still joke around with me about that message and not getting a reply. But, what started out as banter amongst us friends has led us to asking each other – is Virat Kohli the greatest to play the game for India? Or for any country that matter?
As a generation, we grew up watching God play cricket, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who else? We bunked school, we didn’t show up at our tutorials, we arrived late to see our girlfriends, we missed exams, we missed our meals, we ran home from school on days he was at the crease – yes, Tendulkar evoked such feelings, that there were days I felt human knowing that I was waking up to see the master bat. Ably supported by Ganguly, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman, arguably the finest line up of batsmen that we had known! And, throw Dhoni and Yuvraj in the mix and you were watching the golden generation.
When Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement, I had no indication of the greatness that was to arrive after he departed. I was in mourning. Some of my closest friends and I flew to Bombay to watch Sachin play his final test match. It was emotional. I cried. He cried. They cried. We cried. In the middle of this drama, there stood one man who must have told himself – I will take on the challenge of being what Sachin was to the generation I play in. Welcome Virat Kohli to the big league.
It’s taken me 34 minutes to write this paragraph. I have been staring at my computer screen for minutes at end, at a loss of words. Not a good sign if you’re planning on being a writer but that’s what Virat does to you. He leaves you speechless.
Let this sink in: He became the first cricketer in the history of test cricket to score a double hundred in four consecutive test series. Who’s record did he set aside? Oh, some blokes called Donald Bradman and Rahul Dravid.
I realized that I was in the presence of someone inhuman, godlike, and superhuman – when we were sat in Mohali at that India v Australia match in the World T20 stage in 2016. It was among the best innings I have seen under pressure and Steve Smith rightly called that night ‘the Virat Show’. I still remember the night like it was yesterday! Amidst the jumping and shouting and singing – there were moments you just sat in your seat, shaking your head in disbelief and awe. Who is this man and what is he capable of? Virat Kohli and he is capable of doing anything!
The last calendar year has been the stuff dreams are made of. In every format of the game Virat Kohli has left an impression, he has owned the day, he has owned the night – he has owned days, weeks and months. He is driving people into the grounds and to see test matches receive such audiences is incredible! It feels like the 90s all over again.
Hold on for a second and picture this.
He takes guard. He looks across his shoulder to see field placements. He tilts his neck, right to left and left to right. He waits. He puts his bat down.
The bowler runs in.
Thousands of fans cheer him on in the ground, on the phone, in front of the television, Internet and radio.
The bat lift is perfect, the timing is impeccable and the arch is Da Vinci like. The ball hits the middle of the bat and pierces the fielders placed in cover, extra cover and mid off.
You sit there – you think it can’t get better.
And, then it happens again and again.
Virat Kohli, the man you didn’t expect to become king.
Virat Kohli, the man who will sign off as the greatest.