Soon after another Virat Kohli special killed the final Twenty20 game as a contest on Wednesday, vanquished Sri Lanka were not heaving a sigh of relief that the Indian cricket team skipper will finally board a flight for home. (SL vs IND T20 Highlights | SCORECARD)
Instead, Sri Lanka cricket team’s interim coach, Nic Pothas, urged his players to learn from what they had seen of Virat Kohli. He hit three centuries, two of them back-to-back in the ODIs, and three fifties in all since India landed in the third week of July.
Virat Kohli is having an effect on every cricket team in the world, entering the discussion one way or other. Be it his aggressive batting while sticking to conventional shots or his fitness and competitiveness, he has set an example for players beyond his unit.
On Wednesday, even Virat Kohli was feeling the effect of playing the third long innings in a week in Colombo humidity. He took mini drinks breaks, but didn’t stop from sprinting twos.
At one point, he seemed to even struggle to stand, but chided partner Manish Pandey for not taking a second run.
He scored 131 and 110 not out in the last two ODIs, and then said how fatigue forced him to take it a touch easy in the final game. But it was business as usual as long as he was in the middle.
Asked whether he had spoken to the Indian camp for its help to revive Sri Lanka, Nic Pothas said his players can improve by merely watching the 28-year-old rival skipper.
Virat Kohli’s drive has convinced his players to buy into his approach, target peak fitness and play when given a chance, but still making those chances count.
There cannot be a better example for this than Manish Pandey, who raised 119 runs with Kohli in the T20 game, and hit his second fifty of the tour. Pandey was there to hit the winning runs.
Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, 22, the youngest in the team, isn’t surprised with Virat Kohli’s form and approach.
“He is a leader. He just leads from the front and gives you everything you want on the field,” he said, after taking 2/20 at the Premadasa Stadium.
“When I am bowling, he comes and asks ‘what is your field’, and that is what bowlers want. He gives bowlers freedom. Virat bhai has given me tremendous support through the Tests and ODI series, and now too. I am very happy with this kind of team unity and leader.”
Virat Kohli wants India to overtake the likes of Australia and South Africa and become the best fielding side.
“He is a leader, like I said, so he leads from the front even when fielding. Every part of the field, wherever he is fielding, it is a motivation seeing him. What we see on the field from him, we try to improve, even if by one percent of what we are already doing.
“It is the same for training and in the nets, or off the field. I am very happy he talks to younger boys what he wants from them and what we need.”
When you are the best batsman in the side, it is easy to get anxious leaving the job for others to finish. But as the best at chasing a target, he has eased the pressure on the other batsmen.
It is not just the younger lot. MS Dhoni, under pressure with focus on his diminishing skills as a finisher, found second wind in Sri Lanka.
Starting with his rescue act in the second ODI at Pallekele, Dhoni was unbeaten in five matches on the trot (45*, 67*, 49*, 1*, 1*). Questions about his diminishing skills as a finisher have been put on hold at least for now.
Australia face India in another 10 days, and will ask some tough questions. India’s middle-order shuffling is very much a work in progress.
Still, it will take plenty to shake the confidence of this Virat Kohli team.