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KOHLI: THE RUN MACHINE

With an ability to score across varied conditions packed in a mercurial yet persevering personality – Virat Kohli has silenced many critics to be hailed as the champion batsman of contemporary times

From a chubby teenager to a male model, a hot-headed batsman to a run machine – Kohli has evolved as a person but even more remarkably as a batsman rooted in the basics of old-school cricket. Discussions today abound stating Kohli as one of the greatest cricketers of all time; going by numbers, some would even regard him to be better than legends such as Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards. It would be unfair to draw comparisons, as no variable can determine the 'better' player among the greats to have ever played the game. At the same time, one is often left contemplating if Kohli's evolution as a run-scoring machine has been enhanced by the bowling attacks in modern games that are of little comparison to the fiery attacks of the 80s and 90s.

As they say, Rome was not built in a day – the same can be said about the rise of Virat Kohli. Adherence to the 4T's – Talent, Timing, Technique and Temperament, along with a string of consistent performances helped Kohli earn a Ranji cap for Delhi in 2006. He passed the test of grit when he went on to score a match-winning 90 in a Ranji game against Karnataka, the very next day after his father's demise.

Even before donning the main team jersey for India, Kohli had his name encrypted in the history books. In Malaysia, he led a young bunch of boys to a U-19 World Cup victory amassing 235 runs at an average of 47 in 2008. Many believed him to be a come-and-go player – little did anyone know that this 19-year-old would soon evolve to become the greatest batsman of contemporary times.

In the same year, he received a call from the Indian selectors to replace Sehwag and was asked to open the batting with Gautam Gambhir against the Malinga-led Sri Lankan attack. To his dismay, he was out of sorts, and it was only in the fourth ODI that he scored a nervy half-century. However, the return of Sachin-Sehwag as openers kept Kohli at bay. An extended run aided with impressive domestic scores helped him get back into the team – that was the beginning of a fairy tale journey.

In a crucial game down under against Sri Lanka in the Commonwealth Bank Series (2012) – India had to chase down a near-impossible target of 321 in 40 overs. MS Dhoni had already expected the team would be returning back home the next day. Against all expectations, King Kohli arrived with his breakthrough innings (133*) – smashing the Lankan bowlers all around the ground to snatch an improbable win in just 38-overs. Since then, there was no looking back – piling centuries after centuries and shattering unthinkable records.

Earlier, regarded aggressive on-field, he had channelised his anger to a hunger for runs. He is probably the only batsman of modern day to be adored even by the generations of Gavaskar and Tendulkar. Teams are now left scratching their heads thinking of ways to dismiss Kohli across all formats. He further matured as a sportsman after he was handed over the captaincy of the national team, elevating his game-spirit.

In the 2011 World Cup, Kohli marked his arrival by scoring a century off just 83 balls in the opening game against Bangladesh. The multi-nation tournament was a decent outing for him with the bat, but he tasted glory just at the age of 23 with India lifting the World Cup for the first time since 1983.

Even though he was initially clueless about red-ball cricket, his ability to adapt positives from his contemporaries like AB de Villiers and Steve Smith, helped him through. In 2014, critics went ballistic and regarded him just as a limited-overs specialist upon his failure in English conditions – where the temperamental ball exhibits varying swing and seam movement With an average of just 13.50 in 10 innings, he had opened doors for discussions on his technique and abilities.

When India toured England again in 2018, many feared that the ghosts of 2014 would haunt him down. But describing the Kohli of 2018 would make anyone fall short of adjectives. Stung by the criticism, he went on to score 593 runs in the five-match Test series at an average of nearly 60 – 244 runs more than the second-placed Jos Butler.

With the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly approaching the autumn of their professional journey, his mettle in whites was put to test and each time he was able to yield better results. Kohli's inclusion raised questions over the fact that the longest format is a game of perseverance and patience, whereas he was just the opposite – a hot-headed batsman. He went on to score three consecutive hundreds in as many matches after he was made the Test captain. He proved himself yet again only by scoring more runs.

In 2017, he had scored 1,059 runs at an average of 75 in Tests and topped the batting charts in ODIs with 1,460 runs at an astonishing average of 76. His purple patch hasn't ended – in fact, it keeps getting better. This year, he is already leading the batting charts with 1,202 runs in ODIs at an unbelievable average of 133.55 and 1,063 runs in Tests – with 10 centuries.

Virat Kohli became the fastest to 1,000 runs in a calendar year during his unbeaten knock of 157 against West Indies in the recently concluded ODI series – achieving the feat in 11 innings. He broke the record (15 innings) held jointly by him and Hashim Amla. In the second ODI, he also became the fastest batsman to enter the 10,000 run club – both in terms of innings played (205 innings) and career-span (10 years 67 days). His three centuries in the first three games also made him the first player to score three consecutive hundreds against two teams – Sri Lanka and West Indies. With 38 ODI hundreds, Kohli is only behind Tendulkar's tally of 49 centuries.

One of the most important aspects of Kohli's rise as an all-time great is the emphasis he lays on his fitness – which he often talks about in his press conferences. Coming to the national side as a plump teenager, he has elevated his fitness levels, which is now regarded as an integral part of being in the Indian team. His ability to run between the wickets – the textbook way of scoring runs, is one of his key strengths. A high percentage of his runs are scored running between the wickets, creating a hassle for any fielding side alongside building partnerships.

Since 2016, Kohli not scoring runs was only a proof that he is human. He has been running in a league of his own with no-one around. Making almost every milestone his own, he is far from finished and is expected to turn every batting record under his name.

With 10,000 runs even before turning 30, what new benchmarks Kohli will set for himself as well as for cricketers of the younger generations still remains in doubt. His calibre in adapting to new conditions and churning out runs in some way or the other makes him the greatest modern-day batsman. Indeed, we can expect him to be sitting in a solitary position of excellence by the time he decides to hang his boots.

Apart from receiving the ICC Cricketer of the Year, Wisden Award, entries into the Best World XI, in 2018, he was also honoured with the Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy. The solitude of being at the top consistently has earned him the title – The Run Machine.

ARIF MOHAMMAD

ARIF MOHAMMAD

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