Two great cricketers, inspiring leaders in their own right
Great cricketers can be inspiring leaders, game changers. Probably the best examples for this in the current scenario have to be Imran Khan a cricketer once of unquestionable greatness and the man who will soon be the Prime Minister of Pakistan and our own Virat Kohli, slowly but surely heading towards becoming one of the best player and captain in the history of Indian cricket. Players of two eras and one is not attempting any work of comparison here but just absorbing the impact these two men of immense cricketing sense can make in their own way. If one left the cricketing world like a flower in full bloom then the other is currently in a flower-bud state all set to open out into exciting colours.
Imran was a phenomenon as a cricketer. Fiercely motivated, committed, he was a charismatic personality and one who gave his all for Pakistan cricket's growth. I was witness to the impact he made when he visited India along with his team for 1979-80 series and later in Mumbai when he was on a private visit in 1983. In Chennai at the M A Chidambaram stadium on the eve of the Test match in January Imran was an instant hit. Fans fell for his Adonis looks, cricketers loved his strict regimen as he worked hard to keep himself supremely fit and on the field he was more than a handful. He made fast bowling an art where he defined the swings with such effectiveness that cricketing world in due course stood up to applaud his brilliance. Pakistan cricket rose under him. And there was a time in the eighties when Imran was at the helm, Pakistan and West Indies were alongside in terms of being the super-powers of the sport. Nothing gave him the greatest joy than the 1992 success in the World Cup in Australia. He had taken his country to the cricketing pinnacle.
What Imran single-handedly did in his time was transform Pakistan cricket into a strong unit and his influence also brought in exciting bowlers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis not to mention others. He made Pakistan an attacking cricketing force and that counted. It is a different matter that once Imran left the scene, post the World cup success, the country's cricket has not, may be gone forward. May be in his new innings as the country's premier Imran may have more ideas. For as Prime Minister he is also the patron of Pakistan cricket and that gives him an avenue to influence the sport's fortunes. Time will tell what is in store but for now, there is no way one can stop admiring this great sportsperson for his rise. It is worthy to note that no sportsperson has ever become the Prime Minister of a country though one must submit there is George Weah, the famed footballer once, who is now the President of Liberia. So there is some company after all for Imran at the high level of governance!
In comparison Kohli is still an evolving talent. He has years ahead but his exploits have already made many an expert believe that they were watching an all time great cricketer in action. Like Imran, Kohli is a man of fierce commitment. He has shown his technical abilities, adaptability and array of stroke-making that has helped him take on the meanest of bowlers in his stride. While his strengths, including captaincy, have been exhibited on several occasions in recent times in the Tests against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand , it was the just concluded Edgbaston Test in England that puts his true quality in proper perspective. Yes, India lost but only just from what initially looked a hopeless situation from start. He did what many of his mates could not, that of applying himself to the conditions available. That he alone contributed 200 runs,including that scintillating century in the first innings, for India where the others put together tallied only 214 underlined the worth of the man, the batsman and captain.
Ever since the Indians landed in England the effort of the English media has been more or less consistent in unnerving Kohli for he had already become to be known as the key link in the Indian scheme of things. Distraction is part of the game to gain that psychological advantage, as they say. That Kohli never took all this seriously and instead strode on majestically spoke volumes of this man's determination and commitment. The century was a clear signal to his team-mates that there is no devil in the pitch nor the rival bowling but only a careful understanding was needed of the bounce and swing of the ball. Toughen your mind and focus, would have been his message. He showed it with his display. What more would a leader do than this?
At a time with the proliferation of the limited variety of the sport, Test cricket was always in danger of losing importance. But Edgbaston proved that a great batsman can still throw in the ingredients to make it a memorable moment for cricket lovers. If only Kohli had stretched that 51 he made to another long innings and helped India grab a win, it would have been a glorious chapter in the annals of Test cricket. Here was one man who almost pulled a Test from a defeat to a win. That was Kohli, a leader with an exceptional resolve.
Surely there is more to come from this young man. Despite the adversity that he has confronted with now and which he hopes would suitably be addressed in the Tests ahead, Kohli must have had that one personal satisfaction with his 22nd ton for he now tops the ICC Test ranking for batsmen. To that extent he joins the select band of Indians who have achieved that earlier _ Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir _ and these are still early days yet!