Virat Kohli came tantalizingly close to matching Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries. With just five runs needed to chase down New Zealand’s 274, Kohli was on 95 when he flicked a delivery from Matt Henry straight into the hands of Glenn Phillips. He acknowledged the crowd’s applause with a sheepish smile and a wave of his bat as he walked back to the dugout, just shy of his century.
While Kohli missed reaching the three-figure mark on this occasion, it seems only a matter of time before he equals and then surpasses his idol’s record. But beyond individual achievements, Kohli is playing a role akin to Tendulkar’s during the 2011 World Cup. He serves as the talisman and nucleus of the Indian team. In the 2011 World Cup, Tendulkar was India’s highest run-scorer, amassing 482 runs at an average of 53.55, including two centuries and two half-centuries. In the current campaign, Kohli has already accumulated 354 runs at an average of 118 in five matches. With the exception of the Pakistan game, he has played a crucial role in all of India’s victories in this tournament.
When asked about Kohli’s form and approach, Indian captain Rohit Sharma was left almost speechless, stating, “Nothing much to say about Virat. We’ve seen him do this for so many years. He backs himself to do the job.” Describing Kohli’s genius seems to have exhausted superlatives.
As much as Kohli is an asset to his own captain, he poses a formidable challenge to rival captains. New Zealand’s stand-in captain, Tom Latham, explained the difficulties of facing Kohli, saying, “As a captain, you have to be proactive but also work to your plans. Virat has a response to most plans.” These sentiments mirror the descriptions of Tendulkar’s batting.
All of Kohli’s performances in this World Cup have come at critical junctures of the matches and have had a significant impact. In the opening game against Australia, he came to the crease early, with India chasing 201 on a turning wicket. Despite early setbacks, Kohli displayed composure and provided a masterclass on anchoring a chase on difficult pitches. His approach was typical Kohli, with sharp running between the wickets, precise placement of singles, occasional boundaries, and gradually asserting dominance over the bowlers.
Kohli followed this with an unbeaten half-century against Afghanistan on a batting-friendly track and a vital 16 against Pakistan. He then played a match-winning knock of 103 not out against Bangladesh in a tricky situation when India lost both openers early. In these scenarios, Kohli has consistently brought calmness and patience, guiding the team to victory. Since Tendulkar’s retirement, Kohli has taken on the role of carrying the hopes of a billion people on his shoulders.
It’s symbolic that Kohli carried Tendulkar on his shoulders for a lap of honor at the Wankhede Stadium after India’s World Cup triumph in 2011. Kohli described this gesture poetically, saying, “He has carried the hopes of a nation for so many years. This was that gift from all of those people for him because he kept giving, giving, giving for India, and I thought what better way at his home ground to realize his dream and then he gets a lap of honor.”
For the next decade or more, Kohli would shoulder the hopes of his nation. He was already an established batsman, but in the years that followed, he became the flag-bearer of the nation, excelling in all formats, becoming an all-time legend, arguably the finest ODI batsman the game had ever seen, and a successful captain who molded the team in his own image, making them an indomitable unit.
If MS Dhoni was the finisher, Kohli carved a niche as the chase-master. Steep run chases brought out the best in him, with 23 of his 48 centuries coming in successful chases. He boasts an astonishing average of 90.40 in 96 games that India has won while chasing. But it’s not just the numbers; it’s the way he approaches chases that makes it an unforgettable experience. His settling in, gradually setting the tempo with boundaries, accumulating singles and doubles, and achieving the target with minimal fuss – this is the spectacle of Kohli. His innings of 95 against New Zealand was quintessential Kohli.
From this point on, fans will eagerly flock to stadiums and screens, not only to witness India’s victories but also to see Kohli equal Tendulkar’s record. Even more gratifying for Kohli and his team would be if someone carries him on their shoulders for a lap of honor on the night of November 19th in Ahmedabad.