A true modern-day great, a run-machine and an astute leader, Virat Kohli is currently at the top of his game. Twelve years on, since he made his international debut, he has a bunch of followers who dream to emulate the high standards he has set. He is already India’s most successful Test captain, and on top of that, he is on course to breaking ODI records that seemed near-impossible not too long ago. But it did not start all that well for him.
He had just two fifties from his first 10 innings and perhaps, was on his way out soon if he didn’t turn things around soon. The 107 he scored against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 2009 was the beginning of that. Gautam Gambhir, who scored an unbeaten 150 to help India chase down 316 sportingly handed over his player of the match award to Kohli. From there on, Kohli never looked back.
India were in need of a reliable middle-order batsman in the 2011 World Cup. Kohli is no stranger to performing on the big stage as he had previously led India to an Under-19 World Cup title. In fact, at the age of 17, he continued playing on for Delhi even after the death of his father to help his side save the game. His commitment and hunger for the game was high right from a young age and now it was just a question of putting that into action.
He started the 2011 tournament with a brilliant century against Bangladesh. He went on to score 282 runs at 35.25, which included a composed 35 in the final – a crucial knock given that India had lost their openers early.
A Test debut was the next step and he earned that during the West Indies tour in 2011. While Kohli had established himself as a key figure in limited-overs cricket, the Test arena was going to be a completely different ball game. He made a slow start just like he did in ODIs but picked up pace in the years to follow, which included centuries in tough conditions like New Zealand and South Africa, but he was James Anderson’s bunny in 2014, where he averaged 13.4 from 10 innings. Many players could have been axed after that, but the Indian team management believed in Kohli’s abilities and would be glad that they made that call.
While he had to make minor tweaks to sustain himself in the Test arena, he had no problems in the shorter format, churning out runs after runs, centuries after centuries, match-winning performances such as his knock in Hobart against Sri Lanka in 2012 or the 183 against Pakistan in the Asia Cup the same year.
He is often seen as a player who can surpass Tendulkar in ODIs, thanks to the pace he is going at. He already has 43 centuries, only six behind Tendulkar. When it comes to runs, this will put things in perspective: after 239 innings Kohli has scored 11,867 runs with 43 tons in comparison to Tendulkar’s 10,569 runs and 25 tons. Tendulkar went on to play for 12 more years after that. Even if Kohli, who is 31 currently, goes on to play till he is 38 like Tendulkar did, he could certainly surpass him considering the Delhi batsman averages nearly 60.
It was MS Dhoni who backed Kohli despite a few poor performances, just like he backed Rohit Sharma. The duo now rule ODI cricket, and Rohit has the most runs in the format after Kohli since the latter’s debut. Not just that, they boast the most runs batting together in ODs after the legendary Tendulkar-Ganguly pair.
His career might have not been that glittering had the Dilip Vengsarkar-led selection committee picked S Badrinath over Kohli for the tour of Sri Lanka in 2008. Years later, Vengsarkar revealed that he lost his job because he backed a young Kohli ahead of Badrinath, leaving then secretary N Srinivasan irate. He then strong-armed BCCI into sacking Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar saw Kohli’s potential on the Emerging Tour in Australia where Kohli scored a century and a fifty opening the innings, incidentally under the leadership of Badrinath.
Kohli, had played just nine List A matches before he got a chance to play for India. While his experience in the Under-19 World Cup gave the world a glimpse of his abilities, drafting him into the international stage at that point was still a gamble, but it has certainly paid off.
However, the major difference between the Tendulkar era and the Kohli era is that India for a few years in the 90s and early 2000s relied on Tendulkar completely to score runs. In fact, a chunk (28.57%) of Tendulkar’s centuries have come in losing causes, largely due to the fact that he did not get much support at the other end. Thankfully, that has never been the case with Kohli, who over the last six to seven years has been irreplaceable, but at the same time, not someone that the team depends on solely to get runs.
Not to forget, when it comes to chasing, there is nobody better than Kohli. He has often said that he loves to know the target to get before going out in the middle as it gives him the opportunity to pace his innings. Overall, only Tendulkar has scored more than Kohli when it comes to chasing in ODI cricket and Kohli is only behind his former captain Dhoni when it comes to having the highest average in a successful run chase.
It is always satisfying to see a promising talent justifying his promise. With the right backing, Kohli has managed to reach the pinnacle of his career and over the next 3-4 years, he could further cement his legacy – as a player, as well as captain.