Usually, the post-match presentation ceremony is a routine affair, with clichéd utterances by players, captains and, of course, commentators. The ceremony after India lost to Sri Lanka in the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Twenty20 (T20) final in Bangladesh last week, was different.
After the game, former England captain and commentatorNasser Hussain told Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni: “I know in the last three-four years you have lost some legends of the game. It looks like in this tournament you have found another legend inVirat Kohli.”
This was perhaps the first time an accomplished former player and captain used the word “legend” for Kohli. Hussain, who is not prone to exaggeration, is one of the most respected and articulate voices in international cricket. Like Hussain, Dhoni too rarely goes over the top while praising a teammate, but given the context Hussain was referring to, the Indian captain’s reply was straightforward: “Yes, in the last one and a half years he has been brilliant. He is someone who has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.”
Despite the disappointment of losing the final, Dhoni took time to explain Kohli’s extraordinary ascent in international cricket.
“He (Kohli) got the opportunity to bat in the top order and made the most of it. He is someone who can bat in any format. The good thing is that he plays authentic shots in all the formats and still scores runs. He wants to improve in each and every game, and that is also helping him a lot,” said Dhoni.
Kohli is currently the only batsman in the world who features in the top 10 ICC rankings across formats—No.10 in Tests, No.1 in One Day Internationals (ODIs) and No.2 in T20. Critics may argue that South African A.B. de Villiers’ claim to the title of world’s best batsman is superior; he is the No.1 Test batsman and frequently exchanges the top slot with Kohli in ODIs (he is No.2 now). Statistically, there is little to choose between the two.
In the past 12 months, Kohli has scored at an average of 60.66 in six matches, with two hundreds in Test cricket; de Villiers has scored at an average of 67 in seven matches, with three hundreds. An average of 60.76 in 36 ODI matches and six hundreds gives Kohli an edge in this format. The South African has scored at an average of 43.83, with two hundreds in 21 matches.
However, it is the statistics of T20 internationals that really surprise, given the perception that de Villiers is the king of the shortest format in the middle order. In seven matches in the past one year, Kohli scored at an average of 87, with a strike rate of 129.36 and four fifties; the South African has an average of 21, with a strike rate of 141.04 in 12 matches and just one fifty. Over the next five years, the Royal Challengers Bangalore teammates may provide more fuel for the debate on the world’s best batsman after Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis.
In the World T20 in Sri Lanka four years ago, former Australian great Craig McDermott had told this writer that Kohli reminded him of a young Sachin Tendulkar. Since then, Tendulkar himself has gone on record to say it is Kohli, along with Rohit Sharma, who has the potential to break his record of 100 international hundreds. Last year, Viv Richards spoke of the similarities between his own batting and Kohli’s game. On a tour of South Africa recently, Allan Donald too mentioned Tendulkar and Kohli in the same sentence. Clearly, Hussain is not alone among the former greats in hailing Kohli’s enormous potential.
“We all know how good he is. We all know he’s set the standard so many times. As a fielding captain, or on the bowling side, you always know in the back of your mind that he’s a real danger, a real threat,” said South Africa’s Francois du Plessis in his post-match press conference in Mirpur, Bangladesh, on 4 April.
In 2003, Tendulkar was adjudged Man of the Tournament for his outstanding performance but India lost the ODI World Cup final. Almost a decade later, Kohli may have gone through similar emotions of pain and frustration after the loss to Sri Lanka.
“Kohli has been in splendid touch in this tournament but he has been mostly battling alone for the team and lacked the support from other batsmen. It can affect the rhythm of even the very best,” says former India captain Kris Srikkanth.
Srikkanth was chief selector when Kohli made his ODI debut for India in 2008 in Sri Lanka, after injury ruled out Tendulkar andVirender Sehwag. Kohli got another big opportunity in the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy when Yuvraj Singh got injured. In the next two years, when legends like Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman retired, Kohli slotted himself perfectly. Since then, he has become irreplaceable in the batting order across formats.
Kohli himself says there is no secret to his batting. “Once you start scoring runs, suddenly you start believing in yourself more, and I think that’s something I try to do,” said Kohli after his Man of the Match winning performance against South Africa in the semi-final. “I try to just keep myself in that zone, and there is no secret. I mean, everyone wants to play and everyone wants to score in every game or take wickets, so there is no secret to it.”
After his magnificent shows in Australia and South Africa in Test cricket, and a breathtaking display of batting in the World Cup ODIs and T20 World Cups, there is one big challenge still left for Kohli: the tour of England in July. If the Delhi batsman succeeds in England, you can expect Hussain and his fellow English commentators, experts and writers to use the word legend a little more frequently.
From idris ali