WHEN T20 CRICKET first came to be, everyone—from players to pundits and administrators—imagined the 20-over format as the exciting ‘slog’ overs of a One Day International match. Where the top five or six batsmen, maybe even all 11 in a team, would club every ball in sight to cram as many runs as possible within 120 deliveries. None of that boring art of defence or stuff about conserving wickets. Batsmen now depended upon brute force, innovation and a lot of luck. A score of 30 in rapid time was now a respectable contribution. A 50 was akin to a century. T20 cricket was going to be remunerative, surely, but not everyone saw this bludgeon- fest as cricket. Several top cricketers opted out or played it only sparingly. But in the past few years, especially this season, the batting of Indian cricketer Virat Kohli has come to redefine the format. His numbers have long gone past, dare we say, Sachin Tendulkar, to reach—at least in T20s— the consistency levels of Don Bradman. This year, in the 26 matches he has played representing India and his IPL team, Kohli has scored 1,490 runs at a remarkable average of 99.33. In this year’s IPL, he has already broken the earlier record of most runs in a single season, bettering his teammate Chris Gayle’s performance of 733 runs back in 2012. Kohli already has four centuries, 865 runs and several more matches to go. The person closest to him in the IPL this season is his teammate AB de Villiers, more than 250 runs behind. Kohli, it seems, is in the form of his life.
He builds his innings gradually, relying on precision placements and immaculate stroke play, taking minimum risk by running between wickets like a sprinter, often reducing his partners to a quivering panting mess
These numbers are staggering when one considers the nature of this risk-demanding format— nobody was expected to touch such numbers with such consistency. And strangely, in approach and skill-set, he doesn’t fit into the mould of the typical T20 batsman. Neither does he hit sixes very frequently nor play the ‘dilscoop’ or ‘helicopter’ shots. He builds his innings gradually, relying on precision placements and immaculate stroke play, taking minimum risk by running between wickets like a sprinter, often reducing his partners (even the fittest) to a quivering panting mess before suddenly erupting towards the fag-end. Despite his showdowns off and on the field, he has a monkish devotion towards the game. During the T20 World Cup earlier this year, where he emerged as player of the tournament, he was asked about his approach of relying on quick singles and doubles, to which he replied: “That’s why you do those fitness regimes, those sprints, and all the other tests that you go through. It all helps. I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero. ” More recently, he revealed, “It is more like ‘Eat, sleep, train, repeat’. If you want to be consistent, you need to be boring with your training, your food and your batting habits. ”
Kohli may not have been able to win India the World Cup earlier this year and it is possible his team may not lift this year’s IPL trophy. Also, it’s a pity that there aren’t as many Test matches as there used to be in the old days. But by his spectacular game-play, he is changing the nature of T20 cricket and perhaps cricket itself.