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Virat Kohli: The best ODI batsman ever already?
In sport, the debate of the greatest is one that has been going on for generations. It is one that has divided many journalists and the average expert on the street. However, when it comes to cricket and one day internationals, one name has been synonymous with the tagline of “the GOAT”. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Like with his record in test cricket, he possesses the most runs as well as the most centuries in the history of the game. Therefore, Indians across the world, which means billions of people, will raise their eyebrows at the title and just dismiss it as thoughtless. But, as Virat Kohli racked up a superlative century to take his total to be more than his age, it begs the question whether he will become the first player to score 50 ODI centuries. Already regarded by many as the finest chaser the world has ever seen, the Indian captain is well on his way to achieving hall of fame status. In spite of his age, has he already cemented his place at the top of the tree? What makes this player so unique and special?
Admirers of Kohli know that his talent was evident from an early age. The skill and technique was already there from his debut in Dambulla in 2008. It was simply a question of putting the effort in and he could soon be a player that would be pivotal for his country. His results were spectacular from the beginning and one could argue he needed to change very little to continue being a brilliant batsman. Nevertheless, champions never settle and always look to improve their game. After a relatively lean IPL and a tour to England where he was heavily criticised, Kohli’s passion for fitness came to fruition. He understood the importance of being an athlete and how cricket was changing to favour the athlete rather than just a cricket skilled individual. Furthermore, he realised that he had a problem outside the off stump and went about fixing that problem. A few days of training with Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid was incredibly intense, but he never shied away from the challenge. This persistent effort was rewarded with a truly remarkable tour to Australia and even a year later, two outstanding centuries Down Under highlighted his status as one of the premier players in the world. Not only did he work on his fitness, he also put a huge amount of time into tactical expertise for each opponent. He felt that early in his career, he was falling to the “trap” set for him rather easily. How to combat those situations, how to react when he is not timing the ball right, these are all situations he has now understood. He is at ease with his own game, and that is why he has taken to captaincy like a duck to water. One can only think that this ability will get better in the coming years and for bowlers around the world, a fearsome thought that they may have not seen the best of Kohli yet.
An underrated part of the Delhi boy’s game is the style with which he plays. It cannot be overstated that ODIs have slowly come to favour batsmen with smaller boundaries and more fielding restrictions. Despite the seemingly easier conditions for batsmen to make runs, they are always looking for new ways to make runs. Ramp shots, changing their stance and general intimidation of the bowler are techniques that are being used regularly now. However, Kohli keeps it simple and elegant. Rather than looking to smash the ball out of the park, he simply times the ball out of the stadium. Added to that, his understanding if situations within games sets him apart from the other mortals playing this wonderful sport. If we look at some of his innings which have the highest strike rate, he actually starts off in a relatively tame fashion. Just as the opposition think they have the world’s best under control, he goes into another gear and picks the gaps that no one else knows even existed. Be it his stunning century against Sri Lanka in Adelaide or his quickest hundred versus Australia, this pattern has emerged. Yet, with the increasing scoring rate, the elegance of his shots never changes. His six off Chris Woakes in England’s tour to India at the beginning of the year was arguably the greatest shot seen in the history of the game. He will keep playing this way for the rest of his career, so we can all just sit back and enjoy the masterclass in front of our eyes.
Talent and effort is all well and good, but there must be something inside which makes you a special player. That is exactly what Kohli has in the form of his relentless desire and motivation to be the best. He has faced adversity at different stages of his career and each time, he has successfully defeated those demons. At the age of 18, during a Ranji trophy match, his father unfortunately passed away. This would make any player immediately shell shocked and they could be forgiven for having their mind elsewhere. Not only was Kohli’s mind focussed on the game, but he scored a magnificent century to win his team the match. After that, he returned home to complete the final rites of his father and used his passing as a motivation to do the best he can. During his international career, he has received criticism for decisions made in his personal life but that never detracted from his play. His focus was solely on performing to his upmost potential for his country and in the last few years, he has done that and more with an incredible consistency. The passion with which he plays the game can only be admired and he will deliver for India more and more.
So, the question will remain and we will never know the answer to who is the best ODI batsman. Some people will say he needs to dominate and win India a world trophy to be considered, but in many people’s eyes, he is already the finest player of this generation. Cherish him while you can is all that I would say.