Virat Kohli was just a few metres away from equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 centuries in ODI cricket. On 95, with only five runs required to chase down New Zealand’s 274, he flicked Matt Henry straight to Glenn Phillips. As he saw the catch, Kohli smiled sheepishly and walked back to the dugout, soaking in the applause of the crowd and waving his bat at them, acknowledging their support.
Though he missed the three-figure on Sunday, it could not be too long before he equals and then breaks the record of his idol. But more importantly for his team, he is playing the Tendulkar role in the 2011 World Cup. He, like Tendulkar, has been their talisman and the nucleus. The little master was India’s highest run-getter in the 2011 edition—482 runs at 53.55 including two hundreds and as many half-centuries. This campaign, Kohli has already piled 354 runs at an average of 118 in five games. Barring the Pakistan game, he had a hand in each of India’s five wins this installment.
Indian captain Rohit Sharma was speechless when asked about Kohli’s form and approach. “Nothing much to say about Virat. We’ve seen him do this for so many years. He backs himself to do the job,” he said during the presentation ceremony. There are no more superlatives left to explain the genius of Kohli.
As valuable a player he is to his own captain, he is a nightmare to the rival captain. “As a captain, you have to be proactive but also work to your plans. Think about match-ups. Virat has a response to most plans,” New Zealand’s stand-in captain Tom Latham explained his plight. Similar lines were used to describe Tendulkar’s batting too.
All of Kohli’s knocks so far in this World Cup have arrived at a critical juncture of games and were decisively match-influencing. In the opening game against Australia, he arrived at the crease by the fifth ball of India’s pursuit of 201 on a turner. Soon they were three wickets down for two runs. He was offered a life. But unfazed, he batted on and produced a masterclass on how to anchor a chase on turners. This was classical Kohli, tipping and running, nudging singles, hitting the occasional four and slowly dominating the bowlers.
He picked an unbeaten half-century against Afghanistan on a belter, a l6 against Pakistan, before he orchestrated a chase with 103 not out against Bangladesh. It was tricky, in that India lost both the openers after a fast start. They needed someone to breathe calmness, exude patience and shepherd the chase. Kohli was that man. Then, he has been that man since Tendulkar’s farewell. The man that carries a billion hopes on his shoulders.
It seems metaphorical that Kohli hoisted Tendulkar on his shoulders for the lap of honour at the Wankhede after India’s World Cup triumph in 2011. Kohli would then say, poetically: “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 realise his dream and then he gets a lap of honour.”
For the next decade or so, Kohli would shoulder the hopes of his nation. He was already an established batsman, but in the coming years he became the nation’s flag-bearer, its best batsman across formats, an all-time legend, arguably the finest 50-over batsman the game had ever seen and a successful captain, forging the team in his own image, making them an unbreakable unit.
If MS Dhoni built the finisher myth, Kohli carved the chase-master niche. Steep chases channelled the best in him. As many as 23 of his 48 hundreds have come when chasing totals successfully. He averages an astronomical 90.40 in 96 games that India have won batting second. But as much as the numbers, it is the way he goes about the chases that makes for an unforgettable experience. It’s one of the genuine spectacles in the game—him settling in, then setting the tempo with fours, then ticking along with a flurry of singles and doubles, and overhauling the target without much fuss. The 95 against New Zealand, in that sense, was classic Kohli.
Every game from here, fans would flock to the stadium and switch on their television sets and streaming apps to not only watch India win, but also to see Kohli equalling Tendulkar. Even more gratifying for Kohli and his team would be if someone lifts him on his shoulders for the lap of honour on the night of 19th November, in Ahmedabad.