Think of Indian cricket team in the late 90’s without Sachin Tendulkar, and it would be like a lamp without flame. Eventually, this flame did fade out in December 2012 when the Master Blaster decided to call it a day and ended his journey on his home ground at Wankhede in Mumbai, only to pave way to a much deserving successor to rekindle it with his burning fire of desire. The man who took the responsibility of taking forward the legacy was Virat Kohli.
Kohli was just a 12-year-old boy trying to perfect his shots in dusty, squalid grounds of West Delhi when Tendulkar surmounted the magical 10,000 runs to his record and became the first-ever player on the planet to do so. The 16-year-old lad, who had debuted against much feared Pakistani bowling attack, went on to become world’s leading scorer with over 18,000 runs to his kitty and several mandarins in the cricket world came up with a common verdict – the numbers are unachievable. But records are meant to be broken and the jury is out now.
From someone who dreaded math during his school days, Kohli conquered the numbers on Wednesday to become the fastest to reach the 10,000-run mark emulating his idol, Tendulkar. He raced towards the feat in 205 innings; the next fastest is Tendulkar (259). If records are anything to go by, Indian cricket fans have a good reason to smile as the 10,000 run benchmark has mostly been occupied by the boys in blue – Sourav Ganguly (263), Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni. Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis took 266 innings each to enter the club. But Kohli easily outstrips and betters them in terms of strike rate (92) and average (52).
So, what separates him from the rest? One would perhaps figure it out when one notices his body language, almost like an alpha-male strut when entering the field to bat. The way he goes about his innings, scoring of his own volition, where even risks are so calculative that it seems he wants a measure of control over the entire match. His agility, intensity and the way he exudes hunger to dominate the opposition and subsequently come out as a winner is reflective of the man he is.
Although he broke to the world stage in 2008, when he became only the second Indian captain to lead his team to glory in the Under 19 Cricket World Cup, it was only after the international fraternity witnessed his 133 off 86 deliveries against Sri Lanka in Hobart that the grandeur of what this dewy-eyed boy had done became apparent.
He had somehow successfully delivered a master class that took the breath away of some of the greatest in what felt like one fell swoop. Can you recall the initial flush of excitement when he hammered Lasith Malinga for 24 runs in an over in a stunning display of stroke play, shattering Lankans spirits before they even play Australia in the final game?
Turn the clock few weeks back and he was reprimanded for gesturing to the Sydney crowd with his middle finger, yet he was the only centurion in a batting line-up that boasted greats like Tendulkar, Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman. But despite sitting atop a pile of runs, the road has not always been a smooth one for him. It got bumpier during the England series, giving his fans sleepless nights galore. He ended the Test series scoring just 134 runs in 10 innings.
The aphorism that intelligent people tend not to repeat their mistake twice stayed true to this man as he went on amassing the highest amount of runs in his second England series, 2018. Kohli scored 593 runs at an astounding average of 59.30 where the rest had cut a sorry figure. An aggressive man by nature whose only option is to win the game, Kohli showed respect to England’s best seamer James Anderson this time by leaving good balls and not just carelessly flashing his bat outside the off stump.
Delve into India’s 2011 World Cup diaries and it may ring a tiny bell inside your head as to how the crowd reacted after Tendulkar got dismissed early on his innings, when India needed him to stay at the crease. India was reduced to 33/2 chasing 275 in the final in a pressure game. Enter Virat Kohli, but the stoic silence continued as nobody expected him to do a miracle. He had just entered the international cricket back then. If not miracle, Kohli did manage to steady the ship with an 83-run stand with Gautam Gambhir.
What makes this man extra special is his “commitment” and for him the team holds prime importance before personal milestones. “If I have to dive six times in an over, I will do that for the team,” he told BCCI.TV after achieving the feat. “It is a great honour for me to represent my country and even after playing 10 years, I don’t feel like I am entitled for anything here. You still have to work hard for every run that you score at the international level,” the skipper said, adding “while playing for the country, there can’t be any let-up in intensity.”
Even if not the greatest of all time, we can safely place this guy among the most consistent and clinical player the game has ever seen. As captain, he has successfully assembled a competitive pack that is not afraid to take on any opposition on any day. The comparison, portraying Tendulkar and Kohli is unfair as both of them belong to different eras, may make for higher drama, but it doesn’t really convey the truth and does something of a disservice to the cricket fans. And it’s still like a mountain to climb for Kohli as he is still 8,350 runs behind the little master.