At the rate the Indian captain is advancing down the warpath in ODIs, he may well eventually surpass Sachin Tendulkar’s records. Yet, stats show he’s not quite in his own league among contemporaries, as the Little Master was.
In what must have been news to cricket followers all around the world, Virat Kohli didn’t get an ODI hundred in the five-match series against Australia. He scored only 180 runs in five innings with a highest score of 92, sixth in the previous ODI series run aggregates. Gasp! He couldn’t convert his previous ninety to a hundred. The nerves must be getting to him. What a failure. Lest the army the fans of Kohli go up in arms against my insensitive remarks, retweeting and abusing me in droves, let me clarify that I was only being sarcastic.
Now, no later than the first ODI having taken place in the series against New Zealand, he’s got his hundred, ending his “slump”; in his 200th match too, to bring up a pretty statistic. This puts him alone at 31 ODI centuries, one clear of Ricky Ponting, and with only Sachin Tendulkar ahead of him. Though the result of the match didn’t go his way even after Kohli’s contribution, scoring his 31st ton in his 200th match is remarkable*. It is no surprise that VVS Laxman compared Kohli’s appetite and place in the modern game to the diminutive legend from Bombay.
The position of Virat Kohli as an all-time legend in the ODI format of cricket can be taken for granted even if he were to retire today. When he approaches the end of his career, he will probably be spoken of in the same breath as Vivian Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and AB de Villiers. A batting average of nearly 56 runs per dismissal despite the fact that he bats most frequently at no. 3; one of the fastest to the various multiples of 1,000 runs milestones and centuries landmarks; a shiny World cup winner’s medal in his cabinet with a stabilising innings that resurrected the chase; a record number of centuries in a run-chase, and the list only goes on. It is hard to believe the sheer number of records that he boasts before he has even turned 29.
It is also scarcely believable that he’s just about entering the prime of his career. As a yardstick, the immensely talented, Tendulkar continued to play for India into his 40th year, albeit a bit frayed at the edges by then. Given Virat Kohli’s focus on athletic fitness and his lithe frame, how long he can play at the highest level if he can maintain his batting form is anybody’s guess.
For a different generation, Sachin Tendulkar was that benchmark of ODI excellence. In the late 1998, the then Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin (remember him?) became the highest run-scorer in ODIs. Before him, it was West Indian Desmond Haynes who had set the ODI record for most runs in a career at 8,648 runs in 1994. Haynes also had the record for the most ODI centuries in a career (18). In his record-breaking year of 1998, a 25-year-old Sachin Tendulkar swiftly moved from 12 ODI centuries to 21, obliterating the latter record. With his then run tally at ~7,500 runs, it was just a matter of time before Tendulkar would scale the Mount Everest of ODI cricket.
Of course, Kohli could entirely lose form and fade away, but given his progress so far, he’s at a point in his career where he can entertain thoughts about his end-career ambitions.
Tendulkar was only done 14 years later in 2012, and finished with nearly every batting record worth having in ODI cricket. The most runs at 18,426; the most number of centuries (49) and half-centuries (96); the first man to scale the 200-run barrier in a single ODI innings (cricket’s own version of Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile), and so on — you get the idea. How close is Virat Kohli to beating Tendulkar’s records? Is it possible at all? There needs to be a detailed appraisal of their records before any conclusion can be drawn in this matter.
Virat Kohli made his first ODI hundred in his 13th ODI innings. Coming in to bat at no. 4 at the fall of Tendulkar’s wicket in a steep chase of 316 runs against the Sri Lankans at Kolkata, Virat Kohli made a composed 107. Ably supporting Gautam Gambhir who headlined the chase with a 150, the two batsmen hunted the target down with minimum fuss. Right from his early days, Kohli had displayed a keen sense to chase down a target in a team which already had capable chasers. In contrast, Tendulkar’s first ODI hundred came in his 76th innings, against the Australians in 1994, in Colombo. It is worth remembering that Tendulkar had batted in the middle order till then in ODI cricket; an inspired promotion in New Zealand changed Tendulkar’s ODI fortunes. In fact, Tendulkar’s ODI hundred–gathering prowess is not dissimilar to Kohli’s insatiable appetite today — from his 1st to 31st hundred, the master took 196 innings, whereas the protégé has taken a mere 180 innings in these run-inflated times. It could be argued that Tendulkar’s run appetite was more gluttonous than Kohli.