He's the new kid on the block, fun, fabulous, fearless ... and all of 23. Sporting spiked hair and a sexy swagger, this hot and happening Delhi boy is the new super nova of the cricketing world, the undisputed Khiladi No. 1 for his club, state and country.
Three years ago captain of the Under-19 team which won us the World Cup was certainly a kid to watch out for, but clearly left behind by the likes of preferred flavors Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. His dynamism and aggression was seen, noted and appreciated but the popular perception was that his impatience and impetuosity demanded modulation and that he needed to get a little more calm and mature if he wanted to break into the big league (like Suresh and Rohit).
Kohli seemed to read and understand the mind of the selectors well enough. Taking a deep breath, talking to respected seniors seeking their guidance and advice, reviewing his game closely to examine the glitches and lapses, the young man re-invented himself to meet the needs of the day across all three formats of the game. His recent knocks in the current India-Sri Lanka ODIs and earlier ones of 186, 66, 108 and 133 proved beyond any doubt that he has put a price on his head, is determined to play match-winning knocks and be as consistent as possible. He clearly doesn't want to be another flash-in-the-pan meteor dazzling blindingly only to fade away. He is here to stay. These sensational knocks indicated two simple facts: Kohli means business and Kohli has arrived.
In the sensation-loving, hype-driven and media-led times that we live in, it was only natural for this attractive young achiever to burn headlines, make friends (read: female fans!) and influence people (read: brand endorsement gurus) like it was going out of fashion. The ad industry, forever looking for young new icons with that 'extra-something' to fire popular imagination, grabbed the hottest young one-day cricketer on the planet, put him on a trapeze and swung him on to a different stratosphere.
From a modest Rs 30 lakhs a couple of years ago, his annual endorsement fee, per brand, has shot up to ten times that fee - a cool Rs 3 crores. This puts him behind MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar but ahead of seniors like Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and the rest. The brand pundits and d gurus are not surprised. An ageless Alyque Padamsee, revered communication whiz and theatre titan, explains: "The most important aspect of a brand is the object of desire element. He/she must have the quality and ability (like stars) to excite and attract people. Virat Kohli clearly has it and therefore smart brand managers have been quick to move in and sign him as brand ambassador."
Bunty Sajdeh, of Cornerstone Sport & Entertainment (the agency that handles Kohli's brand endorsements) agrees. "Age is on his side and the timing is also right, making him a perfect fit for all brands targeting the youth. We are talking to several brands but are careful that the brand fit be perfect to showcase the best of both."
Maverick ad filmmaker and champion of irreverent bon mots, Prahlad kakkar, comes to the party too. "Mischievousness, dramatic public displays of passion, cool-dude image with clothes and lifestyle… don’t miss out on any of that to get the full picture of the full brattish, lovable persona people adore! Virat Kohli is not your sweet, well-behaved everyday talented cricketer committed to his game and passionate about performing well for his team and country. He is that and much more. He lends colour, excitement, fearlessness, daring panga and all the intoxicating aspects that only youth can offer. For the ad guys, performance alone is never enough. It needs to be given an exciting image that offers it mass appeal."
The selectors too have closely followed his transition from a carefree, irresponsible, free stroking talent to a calm and amazingly cool, mature and solid player, matching his game with the team's requirement. Alongside, his recent knocks and attitude make him out to be-say his admirers – the world's best ODI batsman.
“In 2011, he was the top ODI scorer. This season too he's become the second biggest run getter. Thirteen centuries in 89 games with a fabulous strike-rate of 86.59 – hey, it must count for something, right? To not be compared with the greats because these are early days or he is too young is being both unfair and uncharitable," says journo Jay Kumar.
At age 18, Kohli's 90 against Karnataka, a day after he lost his father; his amazing feat of standing tall and firm recently in Australia when the likes of Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid were at sea; his incredible century against Pakistan in Bangladesh that won us the match. Kohli is indeed Indian cricket's new poster boy. So why shouldn't we go gaga and Jai Ho for him, all the way? This is what the fans feel.
True, agree the critics, but isn't it too much too soon? Are a few months of super performances enough to invite comparisons with legends like Vivian Richards and Brian Lara? Veteran cricketer journalist Pradeep Magazine believes it's unfair. "Virat Kohli is an extremely exciting and promising talent who's fared outstandingly in recent times. His innings at Hobart and Mirpur were truly remarkable, but to immediately turn on the heat, put him on a pedestal, call him the next Tendulkar and raise the expectation bar sky-high, could be dangerous. Supposing he doesn't perform as per the hyper, what happens? It can boomerang badly."
Magazine reckons that this crazy buzz and hoopla also happens because both the media and the brand custodians are constantly seeking new heroes to power their breaking news headlines. "They constantly need new, young, exciting rock stars who are newsmakers – and if that happens on the cricket field (a religion that cuts across pan-India) then, they swoop down in a flash and ensure that the new star catches fire. Virat is a ready-made explosive because he has all the symptoms that go to constitute the disease. However, my advice is: hasten slowly."
ESPN's Swarup Purakaista begs to differ. "Virat Kohli and his amazing transition into a player of substance deserve to be celebrated. He is young, cocky, takes panga, is defiant, daring, confronts challenges head-on fearlessly and emerges triumphant. In recent times, he has also proves to be the finest finisher in the team, even better than Sachin. Off the field, he represents the new-age, cool-dude-sexy and confident, with a hint of naughtiness. Why on earth should the media or advertiser shy away from this ready-made dhamaka?"
Another eminent veteran cricket journo Kishore Bhimani agrees. "I don’t think the hype is a big deal for Virat's generation. Unlike earlier times these guys get interviewed and written about every day. Virat indeed is a major talent and bears interesting comparison with Sachin. He overtook the others by taking on the pressure and blazing ahead instead of being inconsistent, erratic and falling when it counted."
Bhimani, however, insists that there should not be any unnecessary haste in making him captain before he's properly tested and groomed in the Ranji Trophy and other tournaments. "Remember what happened to Sachin? Let him be and just enjoy both his persona and his game," he urges.
The final words must be reserved for a legend whom Ian Chapell rated as "the finest offie of his times and one of the greatest, ever" - EAS Prasana. Prasanna believes that this while hoopla and furor needs to be put in perspective. "Virat Kohli's performance needs to be seen against the disappointing show put up in the recent passed by India's four biggies. This makes it both, remarkable and thought provoking. The young man is undoubtedly a very special talent – but his time starts now. Whether he sees the glass had empty or full is his choice and will dictate his vision of his future. He appears to have leadership qualities and the ability to absorb pressure, stay calm and create order out of chaos. These are early days but the signs are positive and it augurs well. However, he shouldn't be pushed or pressurized into believing that he is another Lara or Tendulkar or the ideal captain material, because that could jeopardize his career. Let him enjoy his game, the moment his stunting form."
Prasanna also believes that he is mature enough to understand that all this hype and praise - along with the media glare and the big bucks endorsement goodies - comes with huge expectations and responsibilities. He appears to take it all in his stride. Everything considered, the iconic offspinner believes that he has it in him to galvanize the team and rocket it back to where it was a year ago - the top.