Royal Challengers Bangalore owner Vijay Mallya loves to put his money on a winning horse. If he thought 22-year-old Virat Kohli was the only cricketer his franchise should have retained ahead of Indian Premier League 4 and spent $1.8m to ensure Kohli stays put, he must have certainly seen something special in the cricketer.
A closer look at Kohli now gives you glimpses of what Mallya might have seen. A confident young man who doesn’t swear by his talent as much as he swears by what he has learnt from his mistakes; a hard-working cricketer who is turning out to be a winning bet for Indian cricket; an extraordinary individual.
Five years ago, when the batsman returned to finish off a Ranji Trophy game for his team Delhi on the morning his father passed away, people saw a young boy with immense composure, a batsman determined not to let the huge loss get in the way of a job he knew his father would have wanted him to finish. Kohli scored 90 runs in that game and was marked for the future right then.
However, in between that 90 he scored then and the match-winning 81 he scored against the West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval here on Wednesday, much has happened in young Kohli’s life.
He achieved a lot of success in the domestic circuit, led the India Under-19 team to a World Cup victory in Kuala Lumpur in 2007, was a member of the historic World Cup winning team that defeated Sri Lanka in the final at Wankhede in April this year and all through he played some fine knocks to cement his place in the Indian team.
While he did so and earned accolades, a few brickbats too came his way. Some called him arrogant while others called him rude. When performances took a dip, his lifestyle came into question.
Being a young man, he became popular in the Page Three circles as much as his cricket. Many thought he was racing into a vaccum where his talent as a cricketer would find no breathing space.
Kohli now admits as much that he felt breathless indeed. He had to wriggle out and find his way.
“I have answered that question many times,” he says, laughing but not the kind of laugh that would in any way suggest he felt very good about what he did. “I realized I had to change and was determined to transform myself.
“I was getting carried away off the field, which was not good. But then everyone around you lets you know about your ways. The word spreads, and you realise you got to change. I had to decide myself.
“No one can help you with such a decision. I reminded myself that not many get the chance to play for India. I had to realign my priorities. It’s a massive privilege, a huge motivation,” he says now.
His comments are confidence personified. Just like the positivity he wears on his sleeve these days with an air of humility surrounding him. He is not just one of the superstar cricketers who wear India colours. Any senior cricketer who has been around for a decade or more will tell you Kohli is exactly what he’d want to see in a rising star.
Kohli says he realizes that like him there are 20 others on the sidelines waiting to grab a chance and that he’s been fortunate. “There were occasions, earlier on, when I had a rush of blood and it cost me and my team. If you know you have the talent, you can afford to be patient and learn to respect good balls,” he says.
Mallya may have invested well in Kohli but Kohli’s investment in the great Indian dream is turning out to be a fascinating story. Here’s a cricketer to keep track of, one who looks destined for great things.