Virat Kohli is loved by the Indian fans. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Virat Kohli is loved by the Indian fans. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Kohli’s rise from ‘brash, arrogant’ to skipper: Bhogle

In the early 1990s, faced with precariously low foreign exchange reserves and a resultant crisis round the corner, India opened up its economy.

It opened the world to India, but just as much, it opened India to the world.

We were all beneficiaries of the winds of change that swept India, but in many ways, the poster child of this liberalisation was Sachin Tendulkar.

Virat Kohli was then a toddler.

The image Tendulkar offered - brave, confident, aggressive but still a simple family boy with middle-class moorings - made him an enticing package for an India that was looking for heroes who could make the dream of challenging the best in the world a reality.

Before Tendulkar came a generation that grew up on scarcity and the resultant uncertainty - the generation that Tendulkar inspired, certainly in the cities, benefited from the first signs of affluence.

It was inherently more confident, surer of itself and its place in the world - you only have to see India's young entrepreneurs and software developers to see a mindset change … and you have to see Virat Kohli.

Indian cricket greats Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli playing side-by-side.
Indian cricket greats Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli playing side-by-side.

Kohli's moorings are middle-class too, but his generation is not afraid to proclaim its ability, to tell the world: "I'm here, come look at me."

They are willing to gamble on themselves, to live for the day in the confidence that tomorrow will be theirs, and they are not afraid to lock eyes with the world and say the word that my generation would hesitate to utter but Kohli's sings a song to.

It is a lengthy preamble to an article that isn't very long, but I indulge in it to help understand better the man playing in Australia for the third time.

In 2011-12, he was a young man with a hesitant start in Test cricket, in 2014-15 he was setting sail, in 2018-19, he arrives as captain and with a reputation that grows every innings.

Kohli's intensity will announce itself from the first ball - he will not back off, and while he says he will not cast the first stone in a land that India sees as the home of sledging, he will not temper his aggression.

Visibly, Kohli carries little of the Tendulkar persona, but they are united by a deep passion for the game and for seeing India win.

Kohli has critics on other fronts, but not one doubts his desire on the field to see India come first.

His intensity is scary and I often wonder how it doesn't sap him - but it doesn't … every ball there to be won and the result shows on his face.

Tendulkar could give an impression of being weighed down by leadership, but it buoys Kohli.

He gives the impression he was born to lead a team, something that was recognised early by those who made him captain of India under-19s.

That captain was brash, arrogant and almost ill-behaved … this one is worldly-wise, smart and respectful of the game and its history.

He is unlikely to offer a middle finger to crowds, but he will go to war with his team, and he'll enthral Australian crowds like Tendulkar.

His white-ball exploits are already the stuff of legend, but it is Kohli the Test batsman that has made watching him so rewarding.

His twin centuries in Adelaide in 2014-15, especially the second one, had marked him for greatness, but it was his batting in South Africa on spicy pitches and then his performances in England that have taken his cricket to another level.

Even by English standards, the Dukes ball was excitable this year and there wasn't another player on either team who was able to tame it.

On an earlier tour, Kohli made just 134 runs in 10 innings and was unable to decipher Jimmy Anderson.

This time he respected Anderson, with his strike rate against him way lower than against the others, but he didn't get out to him.

Kohli in England convinced us he is a complete player and a modern great in Test cricket.

I find his white-ball batting just as fascinating - in an era of scoops and paddles and reverse sweeps and switch hits, he retains the purity of his craft.

His great friend AB de Villiers is the genius, the rebel poet, the guitarist given to wild flights of music, while Kohli still constructs classical essays, plays a melody on the sitar and is equally captivating.

He has not allowed the waywardness of stroke play in shorter formats and its seeming necessity to infect him, and yet he stands tallest in this genre.

You can see his commitment to getting better in the sleek physicality of his presence.

Kohli was chubby and ate as his stomach ordered - now, everything is programmed, his diet, his fitness regimen and he claims it allows him to inhabit a world of athleticism and stroke play that he wasn't aware of.

He says he is calmer off the field, something he credits to the spirituality his glamorous actress-wife Anushka Sharma has brought into his life.

They are very much in love and their many millions of followers on Instagram are allowed a peep into that affection quite regularly.

But his relationship with the media, especially in India, is prickly.

As India's most visible and glamorous couple, Anushka and Virat are frequently subjects of flimsy stories.

That it should irritate him is understandable, but he sometimes gives the impression he believes the media isn't backing his team enough and the poise he displays in a tougher contest in the middle can desert him in press interactions.

It is a tiny quibble, for while his role forces him into media conferences, his greater role, of playing sublime innings and winning matches is something he savours.

I will be surprised if Australia doesn't see a lot of that over the summer.

HARSHA BHOGLE will commentate on this summer's Australia-India Test series on Fox Cricket and ABC Grandstand.