NEW DELHI, India, March 19 – Just when Indian cricket was pondering a future without its ageing batting superstars, Virat Kohli has emerged as the man ready to step in and take charge.
With Rahul Dravid having retired and Sachin Tendulkar and Venkatsai Laxman nearing the end of their glorious careers, India are desperate to find replacements during a tough transition period.
But the heroics of 23-year-old Kohli in Sunday’s clash with Pakistan helped lift the gloom — at least at the one-day level — after an embarrassing period in Test cricket when India were whitewashed 4-0 in England and Australia.
Kohli is already being hailed as one of cricket’s finest young batsmen after he anchored India to an astonishing one-day victory on Sunday night, their second in three weeks.
His 183 off 148 balls helped India achieve their highest chase in one-day cricket to overhaul Pakistan’s formidable 330-run target with 13 balls to spare in the Asia Cup game in Dhaka.
The explosive knock followed the 86-ball unbeaten 133 against Sri Lanka in Hobart on February 28 that saw India chase down 321 in an incredible 36.4 overs to secure a bonus-point clinching win in the tri-series in Australia.
Kohli has now scored 11 centuries in 85 one-dayers, including three in the last four games, his 3,590 runs coming at an impressive average of 50.56.
Kohli’s eight Tests so far have produced one century and an average of 32.73 after he burst into the star-studded middle-order on the tour of the West Indies last year when Tendulkar opted to rest.
Former India captain Kapil Dev said he was amazed at Kohli’s talent and hunger for runs at such a young age.
“He has a long way to go to join the list of greats, but he has to be one of the most impressive young batsmen in world cricket,” said Dev, India’s first World Cup-winning skipper.
“He gets going when the going gets tough, and that is the hallmark of someone who has a lot of confidence in his talent and ability.
“Virat’s real test will come when he goes through a bad patch. But for now, he can do nothing wrong and he must make full use of this opportunity,” Dev told AFP.
Kohli’s amazing run did not go unnoticed by England’s Kevin Pietersen, his former Bangalore Royal Challengers team-mate in the Indian Premier League.
“An Indian superstar is rising if not already risen in ODIs. Take a bow Kohli,” Pietersen tweeted.
Kohli is almost certain to replace Dravid at the vital number three place in Test cricket when India host New Zealand later in the year, and the youngster realises the enormous task that awaits him.
“Batting at number three is a very important position for the team,” Kohli told reporters after Sunday’s game. “I value my wicket much more now. It is all about setting a good platform and helping the team.
Kohli’s rise was welcomed by batting great Sunil Gavaskar, who sees him as the kingpin of India’s future middle-order in Tests without Tendulkar and Laxman.
“When Kohli and Rohit Sharma were batting together against Pakistan, we saw the future of the Indian batting,” Gavaskar said on television during the match.
“India is fortunate to have such talented batsmen in its ranks.”
The victory on Sunday helped the reigning World Cup champions stay in contention for a place in the final against Pakistan, provided Sri Lanka beat hosts Bangladesh in Tuesday’s last league match.
If Bangladesh win, they will go through to Thursday’s title clash against Pakistan, knocking India out in the process. Sri Lanka are already out of the race after two consecutive losses.