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Decoding Virat Kohli’s stupendous success in ODI cricket

Kohli, as the latest carrier of the baton, is doing so more comfortably than his forefathers. Otherwise, it’s a grand incremental success.

Virat Kohli hundred
Virat Kohli celebrates his 33rd ODI hundred. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Virat Kohli made the headlines again in the first One-Day International (ODI) against South Africa in Durban on Thursday, February 1, by slamming a clinical 112 to give India a welcome 1-0 lead in the six-match series. Kohli, in the process, picked up his 33rd ODI hundred, inching a step closer to the great Sachin Tendulkar who has 49 ODI tons to his credit. Kohli, nevertheless, played almost 100 matches less than the Master Blaster to reach the milestone.

His feat made former England captain Michael Vaughan describe him as the “greatest chaser” in the game of cricket. It is not the first time that Vaughan has showered praise on the 29-year-old. In the past, he had also called him the best-ever batsman in the 50-over format.

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Now, what makes Kohli really so special in the limited-over versions – both 50 and 20-overs? It is not that Kohli has done badly in Test. An average of 53.40 with 21 three-figure knocks is by no means ordinary in Tests either. But he certainly has made batting in limited-overs cricket look like child’s play.

Kohli’s batting personifies an evolution of batting

Kohli is the representative of an interesting era of cricket. His batting personifies an evolution of the art in all forms to a level where the red line between technique and slogging has been eliminated. The top batsmen of this era – be it Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root or Kane Williamson – are prolific scorers who never engage in ugly slogging. And Kohli has adapted himself to the art of brisk building of the innings more successfully than others.

Terming Kohli the best batsman ODI cricket has seen will not be a fair statement for every era has its own share of greatness and great players who offer something better than their compatriots or rivals. Comparing Kohli with the likes of Sir Vivian Richards, Michael Bevan or Tendulkar who dominated ODI cricket on their days is unfair but the Indian captain can certainly be tagged as the best ODI player in the 2010s.

He has succeeded in this venture because he has shown that one can play shots and score briskly even by offering a straight bat. This is perhaps the greatest legacy of Kohli and something to learn for the next generations of batsmen that India produce.

Kohli’s phenomenal success as a chaser

Another success of Kohli is his extraordinary show with the bat while chasing. In ODIs, he averages 65.84 while chasing (20 centuries batting second and 18 of them in a winning cause), which is by far the best in the world (AB de Villiers comes second with 57.94) and this makes his success looks even more staggering. Kohli’s philosophy as a chaser is that of a professional who thrives for a goal and in the process, keeps himself, the scorers and the opponents busy by stealing runs.

It is easier said than done but Kohli’s near-perfect fitness whereby he can go on chasing a target – no matter how big – by taking singles and twos and hitting the occasional boundaries helps him execute the plan with perfection, game after game.

Kohli plays with less pressure than Tendulkar did early in his career

One should also not forget to give Kohli’s team-mates some credit for his success batting second. The current Indian team is not like the one of the early 1990s when Tendulkar’s dismissal would have certainly drawn the curtains. Kohli has the Rohit Sharmas, Shikhar Dhawans, Ajinkya Rahanes, MS Dhonis and Hardik Pandyas who can change the game at any point of time.

This eases the pressure and he can play his natural game. Prior to the arrivals of the Sourav Gangulys and Rahul Dravids, Tendulkar didn’t have this luxury. Hence, calling him a second-best to Kohli when it comes to scoring in the second innings is not actually fair.

Capacity to win games for team

For many yet, Kohli is not comparable with the former greats because the bowling standard today is not what it was in the 1980s and 1990s. Record book suggests that out of the top 12 batsmen having the best averages at the moment, 11 (except Michael Bevan) have made their debuts in the 2000s when the standard of bowling in world cricket headed south. But if one takes into account a batsman’s percentage of innings played, runs scored, hundreds hit and not outs involved in winning causes, then Kohli finishes among the top 20 players (yesteryears and current) in the world.

A batsman’s capacity to win matches for his team is something which stands consistent in all ages and Kohli does very well in this regard, much better than even the vintage Tendulkar. If Kohli is playing weaker bowling, so are all his peers in contemporary cricket. But not all have been successful in maintaining a 50-plus average in all three formats and scoring over 50 international hundreds like him. Here lies another reason of Kohli’s greatness.

However, to conclude, it is always better to see cricket as a continuity and not something comparable across eras. The Kohlis and Sharmas today perform on a stage which was set up by the Tendulkars and Gangulys and later the Sehwags and Dhonis. Tendulkar again had built on the platform which was created by the great Sunil Gavaskar. The sum total of the sweat and blood of all the succeeding generations have heightened the stature of Indian cricket today across all formats. Kohli, as the latest carrier of the baton, is doing so more comfortably than his forefathers. Otherwise, it’s a grand incremental success.

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