It was a bright afternoon at the Sabina Park in the midst of the summer of 2011. India were tottering at 69/3, and Fidel Edwards was in the middle of a threatening spell. The West Indies pacer started the 26th over with a short-of-a-good-length delivery, which Virat Kohli defended with ease. The second delivery jagged back in towards Kohli, who nudged it towards the short leg. However, the perturbing matter was the fact that Kohli did not commit forward while defending it. He was anticipating bouncers in every delivery he had faced and Edwards exploited that hesitancy in the third delivery of that over. He pitched one up outside the off stump, and Kohli, with his apprehensive footwork, was unable to reach to the pitch of the ball. The 27-year-old ended up nibbling at the delivery and gave Carlton Baugh an easy catch behind the stumps.
In the second innings, India were once again in trouble at 57/3, and this time, Kohli was dismissed for just 15 runs by a short delivery, which was aimed at his ribs. Question marks were raised about his temperament for Tests and his ability to deal with two of the basics in the longer format of the game—deliveries outside the off stump and bouncers. Back in 2011, at the start of that series, many felt Suresh Raina's weakness against the short ball would be exposed, while Kohli would grab his opportunity. The reverse happened, as Fidel Edwards tormented him like only a few bowlers have done in his career so far.
Almost five years after that forgettable Test debut, in a partly cloudy afternoon at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Thursday, Virat drove Jason Holder through the covers for his first runs en route to score his maiden double century. He moved forward to the pitch of the ball with the confidence of someone who knows he is the best in the world at what he does. There was no uncertainty about where that front foot had to be planted. That confidence has not arrived overnight, though. The journey from Jamaica in 2011 to Antigua in 2016 has been a long and rocky one.
Virat Kohli has been peerless this year. Now at the age of 27, he is at the peak of his prowess, breaking records at will, dismantling bowlers across the world, chasing down seemingly improbable totals, and carrying teams on his shoulder, be it the national team or the IPL franchise.
Yet, amidst all the applause, praises, adjectives, and accolades that have been hurled towards him recently, there remains a sense of incompleteness.
Yet, amidst all the applause, praises, adjectives, and accolades that have been hurled towards him recently, there remains a sense of incompleteness. Amidst all his achievements, there remains a void, which has been pointed out by the purists every time the debate of “who is the best batsman” comes up in roundtable discussions. Test cricket remains Kohli's final frontier, and his current peers are excelling in it.
Kohli holds the No.1 and No.2 spots in the ICC T20 and ICC ODI rankings respectively, however, he is 14th in the world in Test cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar had Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, and Jacques Kallis to compete with in his career, and all of them had dazzling records in Test cricket. Virat Kohli, on the other hand, is compared with the likes of Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, and Joe Root, and all of them have been more successful and consistent in Test cricket than Kohli.
After the miserable start to his Test career in the Caribbean, Kohli had to wait for a long time to return to the field in the whites. He was competing with the likes of Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, and a bit later Rohit Sharma for the number 6 role in the Indian batting lineup at that time, and it was not until West Indies visited India, that he got his chance to rectify his earlier mistakes.
After being unsettled by short deliveries in the West Indies, Kohli's defensive technique was exposed during the first Test of India's tour to Australia in December, 2011. He struggled in the first two Test matches and after the infamous middle finger incident at Sydney, it seemed like Kohli's Test career will come to an abrupt end. However, he responded brilliantly in the third Test match in Perth, a wicket where subcontinental batsmen have struggled historically.
In the fourth Test, Kohli scored his maiden century at Adelaide and ended the series as India's top scorer. That series marked his arrival in Test cricket, and two years later, the tour to South Africa marked his establishment in the Test side.
“It reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar when they came here in 1996,” Allan Donald had said after Kohli scored a scintillating century in the first Test at Johannesburg, when he was batting at No.4 for the first time. Tendulkar had left big shoes to fill at that spot, and Kohli showed that he is more than just a pretender.
There were some amazing statistics in that innings of 119, but the one which stood out was the fact that Kohli had left alone 61 of the 181 deliveries he had faced, despite maintaining a strike rate of 66. A player who had struggled against deliveries outside off stump, showed tremendous control and patience to leave those balls, going against his natural attacking instinct. A player who had also shown weakness against short deliveries, started his innings with two crisp pull shots against Kallis and Dale Steyn. He seemed inviolable, and all his known failings had disappeared. It was reminiscent of the innings of 169 Sachin had played in Cape town almost six years ago, and it established Kohli as the new No.4 in the side.
One might get a heroic reception for smashing Shivil Kaushik for 30 runs in an over in IPL, but once you hang up your boots, people will only remember that cover drive off Dale Steyn, who was breathing fire with the red cherry in his hand.
However, Kohli has not always consistently produced innings like that in Test cricket. As his stardom and performances reached the zenith in the shorter formats of the game, expectations for him to deliver in Test skyrocketed as well. 12 centuries in 42 Tests is not a shabby number, but like Sachin, he is now competing against the standards he has set for himself in the other formats.
Despite the dwindling number of gate receipts in Test matches across the world, it still remains the standard bearer of this sport. One might get a heroic reception for smashing Shivil Kaushik for 30 runs in an over in IPL, but once you hang up your boots, people will only remember that cover drive off Dale Steyn, who was breathing fire with the red cherry in his hand. Lack of Test cricket for India has not provided Kohli the opportunity to crawl up the ladder and challenge the likes of Steve Smith and Kane Williamson in the rankings. However, with India set to play a host of Test matches in the next seven months, Kohli finally has the chance to remove any lingering doubt that critics might still have about his greatness. The double hundred in Antigua might just be the start of Kohli's journey to cricket's hall of fame. The start of a journey to conquer the final frontier.
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