This is a player performing at an extraordinarily high all-format level unseen in the history of cricket, says Dhruv Munjal
- He finished the decade with 20,960 international runs — 5,775 more than anybody else — and 69 hundreds — 22 more than anybody else.
Over recent weeks, I’ve been repeatedly going back to one particular Virat Kohli shot.
He produces so many, each marked by such startling precision, that it’s almost impossible to single one out.
Yet this particular one keeps coming back to me.
It’s a reflection of a very rare form of practised nonchalance — a sterling illustration of consummate skill, singular audacity and unflinching belief.
It’s a stroke of pure genius.
It’s against Chris Woakes from Pune in 2017.
The Englishman pitches it short, slightly back of a length.
Kohli, as if he’s spent weeks preparing for this very ball, instantly stands tall on his toes to meet it, almost like Kate Winslet from that jaw-dropping scene in Titanic.
Staying on the front foot, he then swivels ever so gently before miraculously sending the ball soaring over mid-wicket.
It’s not really a pull, but a punch.
It’s so outrageous it could have been developed in a lab.
The follow-up frame has him staring at the bowler, smug smile wide across his face, arrogance dripping — very much the expression of a man who knows he’s roaming a sporting space very few before him have.
And what a space it is.
Kohli finished the decade with 20,960 international runs — 5,775 more than anybody else — and 69 hundreds — 22 more than anybody else.
He has 98 half-centuries and 56 MoM awards to his name — both unmatched — and is the top-ranked batsman in both Tests and ODIs.
This is a player operating to a very different set of physical rules, performing at an extraordinarily high all-format level unseen in the history of cricket
The decade saw India win a World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar calling it quits, Rohit Sharma pulling out double-hundreds from his back pocket, and the emergence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the team’s commander-in-chief.
Yet all this seems powerless in front of the tour de force that is Kohli, who continues to maintain astonishingly high standards despite all the pressures that come with his job.
He has won India matches both easy and hard, all with a breathless energy that is now ingrained in the very personality of the team.
Amid all this fanfare, it is easy to forget that Kohli’s was once a slow coming of age.
He ended the previous decade with a hundred against Sri Lanka in Kolkata, but physically he resembled an overgrown high-school kid whose breakfast staples seemingly included no more than a couple of sugary nutrition bars and a bag of crisps.
He ended this one with another match-defining innings, against the West Indies, but this time as role model to an entire generation, an athlete capable of transcending sport through sheer force of will.
Will, because nothing can quite eclipse Kohli’s desire for success, an obsessive quest for constant perfection.
One of the trademark traits of elite athletes is how they can make some of their illustrious equals look painfully prosaic.
Kohli has almost made a habit of that.
England 2018 was supposed to be his most decisive test.
He delivered, emphatically.
Australia’s quicks were believed to have worked him out.
He delivered, again.
Captaincy was supposed to affect his batting.
He defied that, too.
This is a man who can move mountains by just glaring at them.
Watching him is always such an exhibition, an exhilarating display of batsmanship where the last ball is played with the same earnestness as the first, each stroke possessing a distinct beauty.
The inside-out cover drive to the spinner is like a great liquid whip, akin to a Roger Federer forehand laced with heavy top-spin.
The on-drive is less brutal, constructed with a touch so delicate that it almost melts away the moment it leaves the bat.
Cricket is, of course, more mechanical and less spontaneous than football, but if you were ever to create a hybrid of Lionel Messi’s raw, mercurial talent and Cristiano Ronaldo’s insane work ethic, then you’d inevitably end up with Virat Kohli, a specimen bordering on the otherworldly.
Proof of that resides in the fact that in spite of his rich, free-flowing talents, Kohli can bend a game whichever way he wants.
Versatility in any sport is a hallmark of rare greatness, but the Indian captain seems to be able to elevate that quality to unfathomable heights.
How he can successfully apply his skill-set to vastly different situations is not only exceptional, but also remarkably self-restraining in an age where the art of batting has been sullied by overly belligerent instincts.
In an era of one-dimensional specialists, Kohli is a specialist across formats, a cricketing polymath of sorts who insists on playing a different sport to his peers.
That is perhaps why the debate is no longer centred on his standing among the modern greats.
This is no longer a contest between Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.
Kohli has long surpassed all of them — the discussion has now moved on to his place among the game’s all-time greats.
Yes, Smith might better him as a Test batsman every now and then, but Kohli’s stratospheric brilliance has entered an orbit where all comparisons sound hollow, all references futile.
It’s almost like he can’t leap any higher.
Yet, he can. Nothing in the last year has suggested that he might slow down.
In fact, in recent times you can’t think of a period when he’s suffered from a loss of form.
Batsmen often go through purple patches; Kohli has taken those patches and designed an entire purple landscape.
In ODIs, he’s out on his own.
He may not get to Tendulkar in terms of total runs scored (18,426), but his hero’s haul of hundreds (49) looks destined to be smashed — possibly in the next year itself.
In the longer format, he no longer has final frontiers to conquer, except to keep churning out big knocks in tough conditions, keeping safe his reputation of a batsman who has vanquished every bowling attack in every land on earth.
We may not realise this yet, but we are in the midst of true sporting royalty, the once-in-a-hundred-years variety.
The kind that — in spite of cricket’s limited global appeal — we thought was only reserved for the Messis, the Ronaldos and the Federers.
For those who still don’t get it, go back and watch that shot off Woakes.