Virat Kohli likes to win. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, full of natural fire-breathing aggression borne out of his inherent competitiveness. He had, by his lofty standards, a mediocre IPL last year. To be fair, he was coming out of injury and playing his way back into form after a lackluster Australia series, but to end with an average of 30.8 after he had dominated the 2016 edition with 973 runs and four hundreds meant that the season was a personal disaster. His team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, fared no better, finishing last.
Kohli skipped the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka to keep himself mentally fresh for the IPL this year. Bangalore has retained Kohli’s old friend, AB de Villiers, and replaced the declining Chris Gayle with the ever-determined Brendon McCullum at the top of the order. They have finally bolstered their bowling, with the wily Englishman Chris Woakes and the Indian wunderkind Washington Sundar. This is his time to take charge of a squad brimming with potential and conquer what is still uncharted territory for him.
He’s been working overtime on his fitness if social media is to be believed. He’s returned to the nets recently, fine-tuning his power game after spending the last two years refining his defensive technique. Following Steve Smith’s 12-month ban, Kohli is unchallenged as the premier batsman in the game. His T20I record is Bradmanesque, and despite doubts concerning his selection policies, his on-field captaincy has shown growing maturity and tact.
To get the best out of himself over the next six weeks, Kohli will have to do the seemingly impossible and tune out the noise surrounding the expectations of him. Much like his spiritual predecessor Tendulkar, Kohli exudes an air of immortality, and while he still manages to deliver regularly, there is a sense that the big occasion can prevent him from bringing his absolute A-game.
Kohli will most assuredly have a good IPL by anyone else’s standards. There are astronomical odds of anything else happening. However, to ensure victory and establish dominance, he will have to free himself from the chains of caution, forget some of the calculation that has defined his game in recent months. Perhaps only his teammate de Villiers can match Kohli in terms of strokeplay, and if he manages to truly free up his game, he can singlehandedly, regularly put games out of the opposition’s grasp.