Never mind his 50th international ton, it’s Virat Kohli’s ambition that screamed out at Kolkata. When he was on 86, he turned around to the Indian dressing room, asked if he should declare. Ravi Shastri told him to play on for four more overs or 20 runs, whichever came first. Indians have long got used to run-feasts and record-breakers: Sunil Gavaskar was the first to break the 10,000 run barrier, an astonishing achievement that allowed the others to dream big and which set the stage for Sachin Tendulkar to emerge. Kohli has been a product of that organic evolution and has imposed himself into that elevated zone with staggering ambition — and above all, a commitment to drag the team along with him.
For long, and not always without justification, players from countries like Australia have had a favourite sledge: That Indians fuss a lot about individual landmarks, at times to the detriment of the team’s fortunes. Seen in that context, Kohli’s attitude at Eden Gardens was admirable. Not possessing the bowling arsenal to consistently dream of team triumphs, Indian fans, if not their cricketers, have obsessed about individual batting records. A generation fretted over whether Ricky Ponting or Jacques Kallis would edge out Tendulkar’s hundreds and the current lot have started the run counter to Kohli’s 100 international hundreds. Kohli is the only international batsman who has a 50 plus average in all three formats of the game. Luckily, he has repeatedly stressed that run-feats would be a delectable dessert, not his main course.
At times, it feels as if Kohli, the captain, dictates the urges of Kohli, the batsman, which cannot but be a good thing for the team. Blessed with a potent seam attack, and a decent spin charge, Kohli has dared to dream. With India’s calendar next year chock-a-block with international assignments, his ambition will be seriously tested. South Africa, England and Australia await with traps, and if he can successfully come out through the hoops with his reputation intact, he can lead India into uncharted territories.