Virat Kohli adores AB de Villiers and never shies away from letting the world know about that. And he doesn’t mind being a fan-boy even when the South African captain’s in the opposition. During South Africa’s tour to India in 2015, players and management from the Protea camp would often talk in surprised tones about how Kohli would make it a point to come all the way to their table during breakfast to greet de Villiers, leaving him slightly embarrassed. At times, Kohli has also struggled to hide his awe at de Villiers’ many magical knocks and was not surprisingly the first to congratulate him after his breath-taking century at Wankhede Stadium, the last time the two teams met in an ODI.
De Villiers’ name doesn’t pop up too often whenever there’s a discussion over the best batsman in the world anymore. Generally it’s focused solely on Steve Smith, Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Kohli himself, as if the cricket world has moved on from the South African genius. But not according to Kohli, considering he doesn’t leave a single chance to wax hyperbolic about his RCB teammate’s stature in the modern era.
“I think this should settle the debate about who is the best in the world. I just bow down to him,” he’d said about his “idol” following a typically belligerent AB knock during the IPL last year.
On Sunday, Kohli and de Villiers will take a new step in their relationship. They’ll walk to the middle half-hour before the match for the first time as opposing captains in an international match and hope to knock each other’s team out of the Champions Trophy.
Coincidentally, both captains are coming off a rare dry spell with the bat. Kohli wasn’t among the runs in the Test series against Australia and had a very quiet IPL. De Villiers the same, and it was one of the main reasons for RCB finishing bottom in IPL X. While Kohli did seem to have got into his own during his unbeaten 81 against Pakistan, he was out for zero off his fifth ball against Sri Lanka. De Villiers’ scores so far in the tournament, meanwhile, are 4 and 0 even if he didn’t seem to take too lightly to being asked about how being concerned with having not scored a run in the tournament. “Scored a few runs, not nothing. But not enough, yeah,” he said.
Kohli, however, jumped to de Villiers’ defence when asked by a South African journalist about his travails with the bat so far. The undying admiration he has came through. “I actually empathise with him. I go through this a lot as well. When you have set standards for yourself and then people get shocked. You know, he’s by far the most committed cricketer I’ve ever seen around, and the reason for that was trying to do something extra for his team and that’s the kind of character he’s always been,” he said.
De Villiers seemed rather humbled when informed about Kohli’s empathy, and for once he didn’t hold back in repaying the respect. “That’s nice of him. We’ve played together quite a few years at Bangalore. I respect him even more off the field. Just a good guy with a good heart,” he said.
Despite the mutual admiration between the two and the lack of impact they’ve had on the tournament, they’ll be aware that either could play a long way in spoiling the party for their team. And amidst all the love and veneration, both Kohli and de Villiers did point out how they’ll be targeting each other once they walk out to bat.
“He can come out and when he’s in the right frame of mind and it’s his day and he’s in the mood, then it doesn’t matter what he’s done in the past games or how many runs he’s scored or not scored. If he decides to play the way only he can, you know you have to find a way to get him out pretty quickly,” said Kohli. De Villiers, meanwhile, too spoke about “unsettling” his counterpart early. “He just does it really well when he gets going. He can really hurt you, hurt your bowling attack and take the game away from you.”
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