Virat Kohli completes five years in Test cricket

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  • Kohli's return to the Caribbean will mark the beginning of his sixth year in Test cricket

    He left, a boy and returned, a man. That is perhaps the overriding thought that currently fills the minds of everyone in the West Indian cricketing fraternity about the Indian captain Virat Kohli, who is due to lead his side in the Caribbean imminently.

    India’s upcoming tour of the West Indies is their first visit to the other side of the world since 2011. Among the numerous sub-plots on this visit is the particularly intriguing one involving Kohli. For it was five years ago in the West Indies that Kohli first donned the whites for his country.

    He was 22 years old then, already a veteran of 59 ODIs – the 59th of which was played four days before the first Test; Kohli made 94 – and 4 T20s for his country over the preceding three years.

    Glaring outliers like Sachin Tendulkar obfuscate the true picture; Indian cricket has not been hasty in handing prodigious talents their Test debuts since the Maninder Singh episode in the late 1980s.

    Virat Kohli had a forgettable Test debut (Getty)

    Kohli was an exception in that sense. But whatever deviation from the norm the Delhi boy represented, his performance only served to validate the belief to not trust youth with a Test cap.

    Perhaps overawed by the occasion, Kohli only managed 76 runs in three Tests and five innings, with a best score of 30.

    The improvement, however, was quick and noticeable. A maiden Test hundred arrived soon enough, an assured 116 in Adelaide in early 2012 on what was otherwise a miserable visit Down Under for the Indians. It was the coming-of-age that everyone had been waiting for. It was proof that Kohli was not simply a limited-overs specialist with big hits and an even bigger mouth.

    Kohli took a while to become a regular fixture in the Test side from his debut against Sri Lanka in 2008. Once the psychological mountain of the hundred had been scaled, though, he developed a consistency and maturity to match his aggression.

    Kohli scored at least one hundred in five out of the six series that followed the disastrous tour of Australia in 2011-12. India gained some measure of revenge for the 4-0 drubbing by inflicting the same score-line on the Aussies a year later, but continued to struggle away from home.

    Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men were well beaten on visits to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia as the captain’s low-key approach proved ineffective away from home.

    It was during the last of them, the series in Australia in 2014-15, that Dhoni announced his retirement from Test cricket, leaving the reins to his deputy ahead of the fourth and final Test at Sydney.

    It was Kohli’s finest series to date. It was his finest not merely for the sheer weight of achievement (four centuries among 692 runs at 86.50; Kohli has never scored more than one hundred in any series besides this one), but also because it was marked by Kohli’s characteristic touch of fight and firebrand.

    It was the kind of spirit that has seeped into this team with the Delhi batsman leading the charge. India’s dial is now perhaps permanently set to ‘destroy’, as Kohli breathed passion back into side that badly needed it.

    Some might complain that wearing their hearts on their sleeves is exactly what India should not be doing. Yet, it brought them their first series win in Sri Lanka for 22 years in Kohli’s first full series as skipper.

    The South Africans were also downed by a 3-0 margin – the first time India have defeated the Proteas in a series since 2004.

    Of course, there have been problems – Kohli has consistently struggled against England (322 runs in 17 innings at 20.12) and his personal form has taken a hit as captain (447 runs from 13 innings at 34.38 beginning with the Fatullah Test in June 2015) – but will not likely faze the skipper as he begins life with new coach Anil Kumble and his first visit outside the subcontinent as captain. It promises to be another intriguing chapter in a marvellous journey.