Happy Birthday, Virat! The Delhi Boy Who Became Cricket ‘King’
From an 18-year-old boy to becoming India’s most successful Test captain – a look at Virat Kohli’s journey so far.
(This story was first published in November 2020. It is being republished on the occasion of Virat's 33rd birthday)
Indian captain Virat Kohli’s story has been one of grit, determination, transformation, but above all, a journey that proves where passion can take you.
In the late 90s, Prem Kohli took his two sons to the West Delhi Cricket Academy for cricket lessons where coach Rajkumar Sharma spotted a special talent in 9-year-old Virat. Sharma trained, honed and groomed the young cricketer who went on to make his first-class debut in November 2006.
During his third Ranji Trophy game, Virat lost his father to a heart attack. He was unbeaten on 40, and no one really expected him to return the next day. But return he did. Virat went on to score a 90 that helped Delhi avoid a follow-on against Karnataka.
On the back of his performances in domestic cricket, Virat made his way into India’s Under-19 squad, and was eventually named captain for the U-19 World Cup, held in Malaysia. He became only the second Indian to lead the team to the title.
That year, Virat was selected in the India A squad for the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia, where he smashed a century in the first game. Impressed, chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar returned home to suggest that Virat be picked for the One-Day series in Sri Lanka. Then-captain MS Dhoni and coach Gary Kirsten were reluctant, but Vengsarkar stood his ground – Tamil Nadu batsman S Badrinath had to make way for Kohli.
With Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar injured, Virat was selected for the ODI series opener at Dambulla, and opened the innings with Gautam Gambhir. He managed to stay at the crease for just 33 minutes, walking back to the hut after a 22-ball 12.
After his debut series, Kohli was left out of the Indian side for over a year before making a comeback for the final of the Compaq Cup in September 2009. He travelled with the Indian team to South Africa for the ICC Champions Trophy the same year. Virat initially struggled to perform with the bat, but he came through with a match-winning 79* against West Indies. His maiden international century came at home against Sri Lanka in December, in his 13th ODI innings.
Then came 2010. Virat finished as India’s highest run-getter in ODIs in the calendar year, with 995 runs in 24 matches including three centuries and eight half-centuries.
After a few ifs and buts, Kohli was named in India’s squad for the 2011 World Cup, and in his first match, smashed an unbeaten century against Bangladesh. At 23, Kohli was part of the Indian squad that lifted a World Cup trophy after 28 years – the photo of him lifting Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders forever etched in every Indian cricket fan's memory.
Virat earned his Test debut in June 2011, and made another average start, putting up scores of 4 and 15 in West Indies. It was in his eighth Test match that Virat finally announced his arrival in the longest format, scoring a century against Australia in Australia.
Over the next three years, the explosive batsman stamped his authority across formats. In March 2012, he notched a career-best 183 in the Asia Cup to lead India to a 6-wicket win over Pakistan, in what turned out to be Tendulkar’s last ODI.
In October 2013, Virat smashed a 52-ball 100 against Australia in Jaipur, the fastest ODI century by an Indian.
He was named Player of the Tournament in the 2014 World T20, finishing as the highest run-scorer with 319 runs in six matches including four half-centuries.
If Virat rode the high of his World T20 performance in April 2014, the July-September tour of England proved to be a new low for him with a highest score of 39 in the five-match Test series and a total of 54 runs in four ODIs. It was this performance, or rather lack of it, that saw the cricketer bring major changes to his game.
He went on to score four centuries in three Tests in Australia later that year, a series that witnessed the dawn of a new era in Indian cricket.
MS Dhoni took the world by surprise by announcing his decision to step down from Test captaincy after the second match. Virat Kohli replaced him during the series, leading India for the first time on 6 January 2015 in Sydney.
Virat Kohli had been part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore since the inception of the Indian Premier League in 2008, and took over captaincy of the franchise in 2013. But it was in the ninth season of the T20 league that Virat almost singlehandedly guided the team to the summit clash. Scoring his first four centuries of the IPL, he finished as the highest run-scorer with 973 runs in 16 matches – setting the record for the most runs scored by a player in a T20 competition.
Virat took over a seventh ranked Indian team, and in a year and 10 months, had led them to the top of the rankings. With a 3-0 win over New Zealand at home, India replaced Misbah-ul-Haq's Pakistan to become the World no 1 side.
Virat was presented the Test mace in 2017 as India finished as the top-ranked side in the ICC Test rankings ahead of the 1 April cut-off, becoming the second Indian captain after MS Dhoni and 10th overall to receive it. India retained the mace for the next two years.
Already a big success as a leader in the longest format, the beginning of 2017 saw Virat Kohli take over captaincy in shorter formats after MS Dhoni stepped down from the role in his typical understated manner, still keeping himself available for selection.
During the 2017 Champions Trophy, whispers had started doing the rounds regarding a rift in the Indian dressing room. It was reported that Kohli didn’t like coach Anil Kumble’s ‘headmaster’ ways, and wanted him removed. Days after India’s loss to Pakistan in the final, Kumble stepped down from his role as head coach, citing an “untenable” partnership with Kohli.
Another thing that was kept under wraps that year was Virat Kohli’s wedding to actor Anushka Sharma. The duo tied the knot on 11 December in Tuscany, Italy, with just family and close friends in attendance. The couple then hosted a grand reception in New Delhi on 21 December in Delhi, followed by a big bash for industry friends and cricketers in Mumbai on 26 December.
Virat Kohli and co ended the longest wait in Indian cricket in January, securing their first-ever Test series win in Australia. India completed a 2-1 series win after the last match ended in a draw at SCG – the venue where Kohli had started his tenure as full-time Test captain.
The emotion of the occasion was evident on the skipper during the post-match presentation ceremony, as he said, “By far, this is my biggest achievement. It's at the top of the pile. When we won the 2011 World Cup, I was the youngest member of the side. Saw everyone emotional there, but I didn't feel it. Here, after coming three times, this win means something else. The series win will give us a different identity”.
Virat then created yet another piece of history to cap a sensational year in international cricket, becoming the first player to sweep the three headline titles at the ICC’s annual awards after being named Test Player of the Year, ODI Player of the Year and Cricketer of the Year for 2018.
Apart from the individual honours, Kohli was also named captain of both the Test and the ODI Teams of the Year for the second straight edition of the awards.
In his first ICC tournament as India captain, Virat Kohli had a modest run with the bat during the 2019 World Cup; he scored five straight half-centuries but failed to get to the three-figure mark in England. However, Kohli added another feather to his cap during the match against Pakistan, becoming the fastest player to reach the 11,000-run mark in ODIs. Kohli achieved the feat in 222 innings, going past Sachin Tendulkar who took 276 knocks. He already held the record for the fastest to 8,000, 9,000 and 10,000 runs in the format.
With a 257-run win over West Indies in the second and final Test at Sabina Park on 2 September, Kohli became India’s most successful captain in the longest format. With his 28th win as India’s Test captain, Kohli went past Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s record of 27 Test wins. The run-machine had also surpassed Sourav Ganguly with the most Test wins in overseas matches for India as captain in the series opener.
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