It feels like a hard-earned birthday celebration for Virat Kohli, who has turned 34 on November 5, 2022. Birthdays should not be difficult, but it certainly feels like it for one of the greatest batters of all time.
By Kingshuk Kusari: Bruised, abused and battered for the last year because of his poor patch of form, Kohli could never have imagined what life turned out to be between 33 and 34. Not only did he cop the blow for India’s failures on the pitch, but he was also engaged in a fairly public, poorly managed war of words with the top honchos of Indian cricket. If the transition between 33 and 34 taught the great Virat Kohli anything – it is that nothing is permanent. Forget form, forget your stature in world cricket, even the respect that you even commanded at will, fades away in the blink of an eye.
Life is such….
It has not been a topsy-turvy year for Kohli. Let’s get that clear. At no point did Kohli’s life circle between great on day 1 and a villain on the other.
Kohli had to step away from the captaincy, was asked to go on leave and then later was branded finished until the Asia Cup. If it were not for that one knock against Afghanistan, one where he scored a thundering century in the Asia Cup, he possibly still would have been. But, on the evening of 8th September, all was well. Kohli had returned to his usual God-like stature, he was back in touch, and once again one of the first names on the team sheet.
But in between, a lot of things happened.
A HAND-HOLDER IN CRISIS
A gasping Kohli had hinted right after his innings that things were not right during that period of time, a time when he had left cricket for a month – for the first time in his career.
“What actually surprised me was my 60s became failures, which was very shocking for me. I was batting pretty well and contributing, but it didn’t seem to be good enough,” Kohli said after breaking his century drought.
He thanked his wife Anushka Sharma for being at his side, guiding him throughout his terrible patch of form.
“…Anushka – who stood by me through these tough times and I mentioned her as she has seen the absolute raw side of me throughout all these months,” Kohli had said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Kohli’s references were directed at the times when many had pointed not at his lack of runs, but the way he was gathering them. For critics, Kohli scoring runs was not enough, he needed to score them at a certain rate. In 2021, Kohli amassed 536 runs at an average of 28.21. With his strike rate down in both the Indian Premier League and in international cricket, the critics hit out at Kohli’s brand of cricket – one that had made him the best in the world. The criticism boiled into outrage, which commenced with him getting sacked after India’s knockout from the T20 World Cup.
Kohli left the captaincy, went for multiple breaks as India started building a new, young playing XI, and by the time Kohli returned, the world had moved on. The talk of the town were the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, and Rishabh Pant, who brought in new energy to the national side, under the new leadership of Rohit Sharma.
Kohli’s poor IPL 2022 did not help either, and the criticism of his place in the Indian team grew louder. Ones who had advocated for his rest amid his poor form questioned why he was not playing in the national team more often.
“Virat should have played the matches as he has just returned to form and a batter tends to lose the flow if he misses a few games. It would have been better had he been part of the squad for the Sri Lanka series as it would have prepared him for the Test matches. I am surprised he has been rested,” Gavaskar had said.
During all of this, Kohli stayed mum.
RISE OF THE PHOENIX
JK Rowling in her book writes, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” The lines are said by one of the greatest wizards of all time – Albus Dumbledore.
When Kohli fell into his darkest times, he did the most Kohli thing ever. Bared it all. His insecurities, his struggles and his stories were out in the open. Known for keeping his personal life away from the world, Kohli came out in the open with his struggles with mental health and the subsequent effects it had on him.
The tiger had come out in the open for all to see what he really looked like, away from the camouflage of the jungle. There was no mystery anymore.
And then came the turnaround. The shots were timed from the middle of the bat, the balls went through the gap, the shots that were going straight into the hands of the fielders flew over the top.
At the moment, on his birthday, Kohli is the highest run-getter in India at the T20 World Cup, the same tournament where many had advocated he sit out for a better player. Kohli put in one of his all-time greatest knocks against Pakistan, and has answered all his critics with innings of quality.
And he will go to sleep on 4th of November, possibly feeling that it might have seemed like a long time for the birthday to come, but now that it has, it feels worth it. Kohli’s 34th is possibly one of the eventful years of his life, where Kohli has finally seen what mortals might feel like. He has gone through the deepest of lows, and has now seen the tallest of highs, and one can only imagine that Kohli will go on to do great things in the times to come.
World cricket will not have Kohli on the pitch forever, for the few years that they might, one can only hope to cherish the great wizard, who has gone through the deepest of dungeons in search for his craft that seemed lost between the years 33 and 34.