Being born in 1993, by the time I got to understanding cricket it was around 2001 2002. I was hooked to the game. I watched and played cricket all the time. I was obsessed. I played for hours and hours, making a makeshift net being the bowler and the batsman at the same time. Doing diving practice on the room bed. The day India played, my friends in school knew that I would not be seen. I even missed a school test just to see India play. We had one TV in our joint family and I have fought many a war with my sisters trying to steal a few overs to watch. Even my father would occasionally teach me batting techniques, showing glimpses of the love he once had for the game. My entire childhood centered around cricket.
The Indian cricket landscape at that time was evolving. The Golden generation started coming to their own. I had missed the late 90’s, the time when Sachin stood up to the world and dominated the game, the only light in the Indian batting camp. I saw the highlights, but they never are the same. I therefore, never developed the devotion for him that many others had. I loved all of them equally, but for one man. For me, Rahul Dravid stood out. He was scoring runs at will and he was helping India achieve what we never had done previously, we started doing well in tests overseas.
We had started doing well in ODIs, under the aggressive captaincy of Ganguly. I have always wondered: Was he better than Dhoni, because of the leaps Indian cricket grew under him? Stats support Dhoni, but that is not the entire picture, is it? Our success in ODIs and Indian tests was improving, but tests overseas still remained elusive and our weakness. It was then that Rahul Dravid stood out. His determination, grit and runs started helping India overcome the final barrier. We could start fighting The Aussies, The Proteas, The Kiwis and England in their own backyards — which in my mind is the greatest test for any Indian team, one that our current young team will face this year.
That was the era I grew up in — under the aggression of Ganguly, the class of Tendulkar, the style of Laxman, the flamboyance of Viru, the pace of Zaheer, the swing of Pathan, the guile of Kumble, the athletic dives of Yuvraj and the grit of Dravid.
As the years passed, new players came in and we kept growing. Then, one day, my passion for the game took a major hit. Cricket World Cup 2011. We won and everyone was incredibly happy. A dream had come true. However, something in the next week broke my heart. The next edition of IPL started. And to me, it was blasphemy. I felt that we did not cherish the WC. We divided our team into franchises. We lived a dream just now, the one we were waiting for from eternity, only to see being forgotten by the riches of the IPL in just a week. That hit along with the going of the Golden generation left me bereft of a reason to watch the game. I started moving to Football and Arsenal FC.
The final blow came when an IPL match was on and my younger cousin, around 10 years younger than me, saw Dravid struggling to slog and remarked: “Isko khilate hi kyun hai, isko batting karni hi nahi aati. Pollard hona chaiye tha.” I could see the reasoning. He was not wrong in a sense, but that moment made me realize that my time had gone. The game I loved, where the bowlers could swing and bounce, where they had an equal chance, has gone. The perfect defense, the straight drives were not needed anymore. The new age belonged to the Pollards and De Villiers. IPL killed the fan in me. Over the years, I have watched clippings from the IPL and T20s and I am awestruck at the improvisations made by De Villiers and McCullum and Maxwell, but I never found what I loved and craved. There are no more Pontings and Kallis’s and Dravids. I gave up the sport.
And here enters Kohli. He has been playing for quite some time now, but then he did not mean much to me. However, over the past year or so, his aura and style have captured my imagination. Rekindled my love for the game. I started watching his game because he is brilliant and consistent yes, but more so because of his stroke play. He plays authentic cricket shots with technique and with class. And he scores runs with such strokes at will. I don’t need to say much about him, his stats speak volumes, but they don’t tell you why I became his fan.
When he chased against Australia, hitting boundaries at a crunch time one after another, I started falling for him. No risks, but such glorious rewards. Against England, 1st test, last day. India were in trouble. We needed to see out 20 odd overs or so with a few wickets remaining. Kohli was there. And he batted on a difficult 5th day track with English players in his face. We could have easily lost, but he fought. A big step forward, bat to ball, head down, on to the next ball. And he saw the match out. He has scored tons of runs, but this 60 odd was special, for I saw the Dravid I loved in him. That grit and fight. And more. Amidst that tension, one ball from a spinner took off and went above his shoulder. Reminder of the nature of the pitch. Instead of worrying, he turned to the umpire and asked for one for the over. It was hilarious. His calmness and presence of mind at that tense situation. He joked and laughed with Jadeja. Glimpses of Viru in him.
Today, I feel like he is the embodiment of the entire Golden Generation in one man. He is the run machine Sachin was, with Ganguly’s aggression, Viru’s joyful nature, Yuvi’s athleticism, Dravid’s grit and Laxman’s sheer class. In fact, he is more. I loved the Manyavar ad where he makes tea and gives a sheepish smile at the end. He is an actor. His dance at Yuvraj’s wedding showed that he is a performer. He is the superstar Indian cricket never had. As Nasser Hussain rightly pointed out — He is trying to be the Cristiano Ronaldo of Cricket. He is the one who makes me want to open the match and watch, who makes me want to pen my thoughts on cricket. He reminds me of my idols, only to better their legacy.
His final test will come when we visit England. If he can stand his ground, he would have proved his mettle as one of the game’s greatest. Even if not, I still want to Thank You Kohli, for saving cricket for me, for showing me that even in this age of smashing and dead pitched cricket, there is still a place for old minded orthodox cricket fans like me. Thank You Kohli.
The article can also be found on Medium