Virat Kohli is congratulated by Bhuvneshwar Kumar after scoring an epic 160 not out at Newlands on Wednesday. Photo: Phando Jikelo/ANA Pictures

Love him or loathe him, cricket needs Virat Kohli.

The Indian captain has played the pantomime villain role to perfection this summer.

South African fans have had to endure his over-zealous celebrations, his smugness at press conferences and even that well-groomed beard has become an irritation for some.

He even incited the home and visiting media ahead of the first Test at Newlands when he failed to arrive at the pre-match press conference.

All of this would be just enough to swallow for most, but then Kohli tops it off with sublime artistry at the crease.

Few, if any, visiting batsmen have arrived in SA and dominated the Proteas bowling in the manner Kohli has.

He carved out 286 runs in the Test series at 47.66 on green carpets that not even the home team’s batsmen could contend with.

And now he already has 318 runs, having only been dismissed once in the process, in three ODI matches.

In all its storied years, Newlands has seen many magnificent innings. But those spectators at the grand old ground would do well to recall a finer knock than what Kohli delivered on Wednesday.

His undefeated 160 was a work of art, with the Proteas fielders operating as mere spectators to his genius as he laced each ball either past or over them.

My first “live” interaction with Kohli was at the 2015 World Cup.

India – as they do – did not provide any media opportunities all week in the build-up to the crucial group tie against the Proteas at the MCG.

There was an air of expectation in the room when it was discovered that Kohli would be conducting the compulsory pre-match presser.

The room was packed with seasoned journalists, photographers, cameramen and social media bloggers all eager to just get something out the Indian camp.

It was as if Kohli knew this and prepared himself accordingly. He was so well-groomed that day a colleague of mine thought he bathed in milk the entire week.

However, it was his answers and the manner that he expressed himself that impressed me most. There were no pre-rehearsed clichés, but honest and articulate responses. He had the audience hanging on to his every word.

Cricket had its own rock star, and his name was Virat Kohli.

The game desperately needs personalities like Kohli.

While I agree his marching towards the outgoing batsman does send the wrong message to young cricketers watching the game, he cannot be accused of not playing with passion.

In a time when cricket has become so professional through the advent of all the various T20 franchise leagues – where players have their commitment to the international game questioned all the time – Kohli’s fervour towards attaining success for the Indian national team is unrivalled.

Considering he has the most pressurised job in all of sport – with the Indian cricket captain sitting arguably above the Prime Minister in the majority of the 1.3 billion people that inhabit India’s daily thoughts – the way he handles this weight of expectation is amazing to watch.

In fact, I believe he feeds off their energy, whether it’s a heaving Eden Gardens or even on foreign fields a long way from home.

To steal a line from a colleague of mine, who wrote this week “This is Kohli’s innings, this is Kohli’s series, this is Kohli’s tour, and this is Kohli’s India”, I cannot agree more.

Not even the return of SA’s own rock star AB de Villiers on Saturday in the Pink ODI will be able to deny Kohli’s destiny of becoming the first Indian captain to lead his country to an ODI series victory in this country.

It will be an honour richly deserved.


Cape Times