Virat Kohli, 30
The king of all he surveys
The Indian cricket captain has firmly cemented his position as an all-time great batsman and a true sporting icon.
Virat Kohli, with every passing year, has grown in stature, and 2018 was the year in which he grew well out of the boxes of being one of the best batsmen in the world, India’s captain and a celebrity. He became that thing called an icon, a larger than life figure in the eyes of the public.
Kohli the batsman only goes from strength to strength. His numbers are staggering in all forms of the game, and he appears to be impervious to dips in form or the vagaries of alien conditions. For now, the abundant talent he has, the maniacal commitment to fitness and the ability to impose his will on the opposition and the game have ensured that he is never short of runs.
As a captain, Kohli is not the most astute tactician, but he makes up for this by being utterly fearless, more than willing to risk losing in constant pursuit of victory. At home, India are dominant and overseas — despite series losses in South Africa and England — they are only getting better.
It is off the field, however, that Kohli’s stature grew the most in 2018. On Twitter, he has a legion of followers that are as loyal as they are many. Anyone daring to criticise Kohli earns their wrath, and they can be more punishing than Kohli is to half-volleys outside the off stump. As a commercial entity, Kohli has peeled away from the rest of the pack in dramatic fashion. There was a time not long ago when five or six top Indian cricketers would attract blue-chip endorsements. Today, virtually every advertisement involving cricket has Kohli front and centre, while others play their parts around him.
What’s more, Kohli has not restricted himself to lending his name to other people’s products. His streetwear brand is massive, his investments are diversified and he has proven to be a shrewd businessman.
If there was one blip to Kohli’s year — and anyone is allowed one slip up — it was his attempt to take on a fan via a social media video. When Kohli launched his app (yes, his own app, not one for the team or franchise he plays for), he said something sharp to a fan, in response to a tweet in which he called the Indian captain overrated and said he preferred watching batsmen from England and Australia. Eventually, Kohli said he should “stick to being trolled rather than attempting to troll,” showing his human side.
Kohli gets more than enough love from a large Indian population, and there is no shortage of support for him when he travels to England or Australia and South Africa from Indians who have made these countries their home. Perhaps 2019 will be the year when Kohli the statesmen emerges, completing what would have been a most remarkable journey. From angry young man to self-aware cricketer to national hero, he has stepped up without breaking a sweat. Now, if he can repay the love of fans, maintain the respect of peers and elevate himself to match the office he represents and the hopes vested in him, Kohli will be an even bigger force in the years to come.
Kuldeep Yadav, 23
The spin doctor
Yadav is one of the best spin bowlers in the world right now.
Yadav had to wait for three years to actually make his international playing debut, after first being included in the Indian squad in 2014 – and he made it count in 2017, bamboozling the Aussies with a delectable display of left-arm wrist spinning that had purists sighing in appreciation. He is now a crucial part of India’s bowling attack, having claimed five-fors in T20s, ODIs and Tests in 2018 (including the best-ever ODI figures for a left-arm spinner). He’s also only the second Indian with five-fors in all three formats (after Bhuvneshwar Kumar), and the third spinner in the world to achieve this feat. With excellent strike rates across formats in his career so far, Yadav has all it takes to become one of India’s best-ever spinners.
Rishabh Pant, 21
MS Dhoni’s (possible) successor has exploded onto the cricketing scene.
The swashbuckling wicketkeeper-batsman has been touted as a huge prospect for a couple of years, and 2018 saw him eagerly grab his opportunities. He began Test cricket in 2018, in England, in as explosive a manner as you can imagine, hitting a six to get off the mark (he’s the only Indian to have done this). He also became the only Indian ‘keeper to hit a hundred in England, and the second-youngest ‘keeper to do so; since then, he has scored crucial runs in T20s and Tests. He has a long way to go before ‘successor to Dhoni’ sits easily on his shoulders (his ‘keeping needs work, importantly), but the young man from Delhi has made a very promising start.
Prithvi Shaw, 19
The next big thing
The Mumbai batsman has what it takes to be a mainstay in the team.
546 runs in a single innings (at one point the highest individual score at any level of cricket since the turn of the century). Centuries on debut in both the Ranji and Duleep trophies. Captain of a World Cup-winning U-19 side. A Rs 1.2-crore IPL contract. And all these before an international senior debut. It’s no wonder comparisons to a certain Tendulkar began very early in Prithvi Shaw’s career, and he showed exactly why he’s so highly rated by hitting a sublime hundred on Test debut in 2018 (and almost following it up with another in his second test). He became the 2nd-youngest Indian to hit a hundred, and his was the 3rd-fastest debut century of all time, off 99 balls. It wouldn’t be premature to say that India’s batting future seems to be in safe hands.
Jasprit Bumrah, 22 And Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 28
Pace to Glory
The two young Asics brand ambassadors emerged as truly world-class performers, and integral members of India’s fast bowling attack, in 2018.
India currently has its best ever (and most varied) fast bowling attack, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have contributed in no small measure to making this the case. With a calm demeanour, a cool personality under pressure and a ready smile, ‘Bhuvi’, as he is known in cricketing circles, was a winner even before he bowled a ball in anger, and 2018 saw him really work on his skills and variety. He went back to the drawing board and got his pace up from the early 130s towards the 140 kph mark, working intensely on his fitness and being aided by Asics’ high-performance shoes. The end result is that he now has the ability to surprise, with the yorker or the bouncer. Combined with his natural swing-bowling abilities, this means he has the ability to perform several different roles within a bowling attack. When there is the slightest possibility of movement in the air, Bhuvneshwar is the man to exploit it. If there is no swing and the pitch is flat, Bhuvneshwar can now play a holding role, picking one line and pegging away outside the off stump, drying up the runs and allowing bowlers to attack from the other end. It is this metamorphosis that has made him an invaluable player across formats and, indeed, a captain’s dream. He’s turned himself into an all-weather bowler; add to this a safe pair of hands, a good throw from the outfield and the ability to hold his own with the bat, and Bhuvneshwar is the kind of cricketer who is always in the mix.
On his part, Jasprit Bumrah, with his unique and highly unusual bowling action, adds serious firepower to India’s attack. While he always had the strength in the arm and shoulder, the rest of his body had to be beefed up to allow his main weapons – a zippy yorker and a steepling bouncer – to fire. Like Bhuvi, he too discovered the advantages of high-intensity training and Asics gear, and is now a complete bowler. His length is just back of driving and a touch too full to cut or pull, and he is able to bowl pinpoint yorkers and bouncers at will.
After being drafted into the Test squad when India played South Africa at Newlands, in Cape Town, in early 2018, Bumrah has, in every match, enhanced his reputation. For now, he has 28 scalps from six tests, at 25, with an economy rate of 2.91. Hi work in white-ball cricket has been exceptional, too. He pushes batsmen deep into the crease with the heavy ball he bowls, and then picks them off after they have consumed many, many deliveries. This is a bowling beauty beyond any machine you can find.
He is accurate, quick, punchy and delivers exactly what the captain wants. No wonder Kohli said, “Any captain would love to have Bumrah in his squad. I’ve obviously been very lucky to have him bowling so well for the team and giving us those breakthroughs as well, and in difficult situations at the death, coming and executing what we want them to.”
As frontline quick bowlers, both Kumar and Bumrah give the captain cannons to work with, among the light artillery, and as long as they play, India will certainly be better off.