Scoring runs in every match is great, but how you pace your innings is the real yardstick of a classy batsman. Legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting, Mahela Jayawardene and Brian Lara not only scored big runs but knew how to control the tempo of their innings. Virat Kohli is consistently showing glimpses of such 'greatness.'
In the T20 format, where you live by the day, the past don't matter. Especially, when you are in a World Cup final, the present is what counts. Also, no one understands this better than Kohli. His match-winning 72 not out against South Africa in Dhaka on Friday means nothing when India face Sri Lanka in the final of the ICC World Twenty20, 2014. Like everyone else, it will be a new day in Kohli's life.
"I was really cool today," said Kohli soon after he scored the winning runs on a sweaty Friday night. Often chastised for his volatile demeanour and foul mouth, Kohli is a more matured man now. His coolness reflects in his relatively more measured mannerisms and of course, the control over his tongue. But Kohli remains the signature of youth in the current team. He dives, he cheers and he gives it all to remain India's greatest g-force on the field.
With 242 runs in five matches, laced with three fifties, Kohli is the tournament's leading scorer. He has read wickets beautifully, focused on every delivery like a hawk, timed the ball with perfection and pierced the gaps like a surgeon. The pundits call him a master chaser but he is no less a crafty builder. For Kohli, the definition of building an innings is different. Like every wiz kid, Kohli has his own style-sheet. "I look at overs and runs, not balls and runs," Kohli explains, fearless in sharing his success mantra. (World T20 final: Top five key battles)
Mantras don't make a batsman successful. It's the impeccable coordination of technique, temperament and a slice of luck that actually matters. Effectively, how Kohli bats on Sunday will be key. In terms of quality of bowlers, the Sri Lankans are probably craftier than the South Africans. Most certainly, a Rangana Herath or a Sachithra Senanayake have more guile and venom than an Imran Tahir. And on sub-continental wickets, with balls coming slowly off the air, if the Lankan spinners could keep the fearsome Chris Gayle under a tight leash, Kohli and Co. better watch out.
Kohli's 'greatness' will be tested. His runs will count for nothing if he can't reproduce the form he has shown so far. Kohli has learnt to live in the present. He has learnt to set targets every day and his formula is very clear. "It's all about analyzing how many runs have been scored before I walk in to bat and what rate we are going at. Today (against South Africa) we got off to a flying start, we were going at 10 runs an over in the first three. It gave me time to settle myself in. If we were six runs an over, I could have gone for my strokes and I probably could have got out. People don't realise the importance of those small starts," said Kohli. (Also read: Kohli gets marriage proposal from English cricketer)
Sport is a great test of a person's maturity level. You may know the path to success but probably won't find it. Kohli not only knows the direction but has learnt there is no shortcut to success. Shorter the format of the game, higher are the risks and greater are the temptations.
Kohli says: "It's very difficult to break it down in a T20 game because as I said, rush of blood, plus it is a shorter format. Those calculations come down, they become smaller, become quicker. You need to think really quick, when to score, when to defend. I think it is all about how many their main bowlers have bowled or how many overs the part-timers are going to bowl, how many runs you need to score off the part-timers and the main bowlers. It's all about when I walk in to bat, I look at the score board, what the situation is like and talk to my partner, what we can do from there on."
It will be a test of nerves too for the young champion. Kohli will be under severe pressure as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will count on him to hold India's innings together. Can Kohli handle it on Sunday? In big games, the 25-year-old still has to prove his caliber. In group matches, he scored 36 not out against Pakistan and 23 against Australia. Two of his fifties came against Bangladesh and West Indies, sides with inferior bowling attacks than the Lankans. The platform is set for Virat Kohli to take the next big step to super-hero status.