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What Kohli taught South Africa

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Virat_Kohli_India_South_Africa_lessons_cricketFrom a South African perspective, this last Indian tour was going to go like this:

The home side would thrash the visitors in the Test series in favorable conditions, it would be more evenly contested in the ODI series, and the T20 matches would be a fun way to round off a victorious tour for the Proteas before the Aussies arrived.

Taking stock of what actually happened, the 2-1 Test series victory seemed somewhat hollow as the Indians dominated the Proteas in all departments on a difficult Wanderers pitch, and the thrashing they received from Kohli & co. in the ODI series made the T20 series basically unwatchable out of fear of more mental scarring in defeat.

What happened? How did this happen? Is cricket even still worth watching?

Like all disasters & disappointments, this should be seen with a measured approach. The Proteas were absolutely dominated by a superior outfit, and led by a player sure in his abilities and ruthless in his pursuit of success. Now it is simply time to see what Virat Kohli taught South Africa this summer.

You don’t need friends to be successful.

Virat Kohli has enough friends, so he really doesn’t care what you think about him. He cares about winning. From the moment he sets foot on that field every fibre of his being is about getting the job done, and nothing will get in his way.

His celebrations were always noted in the field, he got in the face of the opposition. He always made it known that he was there, there for the fight and would simply never go away.

You are likely to be the apprentice in the presence of the master.

The duel between Kagiso Rabada and Virat Kohli in the Tests and ODIs were tremendous. SA’s premier bowler taking on India’s premier batsman. How many times did Rabada dismiss Kohli though? Once.

Fair enough it was a terrific ball at the Wanderers that knocked over the Indian captain, but the story elsewhere was Kohli sustaining the pressure, then unleashing some impressive stroke play that left Rabada sulking off to his fielding position.

Rabada’s spectacular rise in international cricket confirms what a superstar this guy is, but Kohli taught him he needs greater patience. The greats need a different plan to get out, and they don’t get much greater than Kohli. Pace doesn’t faze him, aggression is a mere distraction. You need to bring your best with each and every ball otherwise you will be seeing a lot of him that day.

Failure leads to greater focus.

Like most batsmen on the vibrant Newlands pitch in that first Test, Kohli didn’t cover himself in glory. His answer was 150 in the next innings at Centurion. There was an air of inevitability about that knock, and though it didn’t save India from defeat that time around, it certainly turned the tide somewhat after the Newlands loss.

This is what the best do: they step up as there is no other option to them. South Africa’s senior batsmen failed to do that with any degree of certainty, and this had a negative knock-on effect as the tour progressed.

Constantly raise the bar.

You hear of captains raising the bar, but Kohli goes beyond that. Early on in the tour, I thought that perhaps as a captain he may be a little too intense for this team, putting undue pressure on his players. But the guy demands excellence in every aspect, even to the point that his on-field antics may seem unpleasant at times.

That hard work and desire leads to success. He rallied his team to win that Wanderers Test while everyone else got distracted by the pitch. Then, in the ODI series, he averaged 186. His 558 runs were more than Amla, Markram, Miller, Duminy and de Villiers combined. The hundreds he scored demoralized the opposition, mostly because they knew he wouldn’t stop there. It got to the point where bowlers were just hoping that he would get out, and that sentiment reminded the opposition who was boss at all times.

Who is going to be South Africa’s Kohli?

South Africa is a country where bravado and outward belief is often discouraged. The fear of being labeled ‘arrogant’ is real, and that is why they always veer more towards ‘team players’ than superstars. The South Africans are much liked and seem to have many friends. Virat Kohli doesn’t appear to have many friends, but he has centuries and team victories. I would choose the latter, personally.

I’m not saying the Proteas need to become obnoxious or abrasive, but they seem to lack a killer instinct, and a belief that they will win no matter what. Who is the player that actively looks like he wants to take on the opposition like an old fashioned gladiator?

The success of Kohli on South African soil reminded the Proteas fans of this, and almost had them longing for the days of Graeme Smith, an equally uncompromising leader who was often seen as a less than popular figure.

Love him or hate him, the Proteas players (and fans) need to appreciate what has just happened to them at home, and learn from this going forward. Kohli and India will continue to be successful. Of this, I am certain. The same certainty doesn’t sit with Proteas cricket however.

 

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Ben Karpinski is a South African sports blogger/MC/tweeter with a heart so broken by the Proteas, t...

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