World Cup 2019: Kohli ready for HIStory

ICC World Cup 2019: As India start campaign, captain will take confidence from his squad, which has a personality that suits him.

Light pitter patter of rain outside. Inside, in a room in the arena, Virat Kohli is saying all the right things. How he still gets butterflies in the stomach before tournaments and matches; how he doesn’t want to use a press conference to score points with Kagiso Rabada, who had called him immature; how playing their first match so late is an advantage as they have seen the trends – it strikes you again how articulate he can be when he wishes. Some people have the personality even in a team atmosphere to individuate themselves and make a crowd out of the rest. Kohli is like that. Like Kevin Pietersen. It comes naturally to them. As Pietersen found out, it can lead to problems at times.

He might have had success leading the Test team but in many ways, it’s the ODI team that he has had lesser problems with as a leader. This is the band of men, the team that he has carefully built over the last couple of years. There have been murmurs about his lack of communication from a few in the Test team, a couple even came out publicly after the England tour. There isn’t that kind of displeasure in the limited-overs side. The first, and most important, achievement was striking a great relationship with MS Dhoni. Second, he got the youngsters he wanted in this team.

READ | Virat Kohli responds to Rabada’s comments on his immaturity: ‘We can discuss man to man’

Kohli has been good, especially with the youngsters. Most good captains are. That’s how they stamp their presence. You can’t grudge them for trying to build a team of personalities that suits them. Allan Border did it in the ’80s, as did Steve Waugh, Graeme Smith and Sourav Ganguly. Kohli has done it with this ODI team. It’s as close as it gets to a Kohli team.

Rishabh Pant told this newspaper a story about Kohli from last year’s England tour. Pant had almost played against his own character in the third Test, blocking his way. The night before the final game, Kohli called him to his hotel room for a chat. “He said it’s not compulsory that you have to play 30 matches to get experience. It can come even in two games. ‘Jo koi nahi kiya, tu kar sakta hai (You can do what no one has done). It’s not as if you are young, you can’t do it in Tests’. That talk really helped me a lot. For him to sit me down and make me understand things was a very big thing for me.”

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Kohli has carefully constructed a team of personalities that he is pretty comfortable with. It’s not a mirror-reflection he is looking for but shared traits. A Yuzvendra Chahal who is energetic, impulsive, impish. Kuldeep Yadav, who is more mellow but whose game and skill set allows Kohli to attack in the middle overs. Kedar Jadhav’s spunk, his equation with Shikhar Dhawan (team-mates call him the man with a Sufi soul) dates back to his Delhi days, KL Rahul gels well with the skipper, so does Hardik Pandya, who has this persona of swagger and independent spirit but is quite emotional, according to those who know him. Essentially the point is, it’s his team.

It’s the limited-overs format that also suits him to an extent; more than T20s where there is more micro-management required of him. Of course, Dhoni’s presence helps.

READ | Question South Africa is asking: Will the real Rabada stand up?

Sometimes, the perception of outsiders is more pertinent. Kohli as a skipper commands more respect from the opposition. The mind goes to South Africa’s Dean Elgar, who was positively raving about Kohli’s impact – on South Africa during the 2018 series.

“It was one of the toughest Test series we have had in South Africa. The way they adapted during the series, especially their bowlers who seemed to grow every game they played. The competitive spirit is driven by Virat. He is very competitive, and we can see that he is trying to change the culture there. They didn’t just want to play the series but wanted to win. That was awesome,” Elgar told this newspaper. A few Australian players too have spoken in admiration about Kohli’s personality, how he uses abrasiveness as a positive trait.

In 2014, when he took over the captaincy, a national selector, who was part of the panel that had appointed Kohli vice-captain, had said how his captaincy would depend on how well he handles the losses. “I have seen many Indian captains but not all have handled losses .. personality-wise, it doesn’t make any sense for Kohli to change as that’s his strength but as long as he can mature and learn to handle the sensibilities and different personalities within his team, he will be fine. If he can move, temperamentally i.e, somewhere between where he is now and say Dhoni, it would be perfect.”

It’s been four years now in the hot seat and this in some ways would be his biggest test as a leader. There are still doubts about the No.4 slot and whether Kohli and Co. left it too late to finalise the individual strands that make up this team – all valid concerns but here they are, about to play their first game. To lead a team through a long campaign overseas won’t be easy but it’s a team of that he has carefully built and nurtured – the wait is over.

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