Virat Kohli and cricket’s modern greats3 min read . Updated: 30 Mar 2016, 09:14 PM IST
Virat Kohli is doing for T20 what Bradman did for Tests and Tendulkar for ODIs. He has also proved his worth in all three formats of the game
In Test cricket, Sir Donald Bradman is the undisputed king. However, the advent of first 50-over and now Twenty20 (T20) cricket has complicated the debate about the greatest batsman of all time.
In One Day International (ODI) cricket, Sachin Tendulkar is arguably the most complete batsman across the eras. If 99.94 (Bradman’s average) is the most revered number in Test cricket, then Tendulkar’s phenomenal achievements in ODIs—the first player to score a double century, most 100s, most 50s, most Man of the Match awards, to name just a few—are looked upon with as much awe.
Now, Virat Kohli is doing for T20 what Bradman did for Tests and Tendulkar for ODIs.
In a format where consistency is a strange concept, Kohli has played countless match-winning innings, the latest being his majestic, unbeaten 82 against Australia in Mohali that sent India through to the semi-finals of the 2016 World T20.
That innings reminded Shane Warne of his “buddy Tendulkar’s many special innings".
Another former Australian captain, Ian Chappell—not known to flirt with hyperbole—went a step further and declared that among modern players, Kohli is even better than Brian Lara, who he always thought was the best placer of the ball.
“Comparisons with all-time greats are odious yet inevitable. Even though I don’t want to compare Tendulkar with Kohli, for there is still a question of longevity, I have never seen anyone in my life who has improved his game so astonishingly in a couple of years," says former India captain K. Srikkanth.
“I don’t want to comment on the bowling attack of Bradman’s era and fielding standards, but Tendulkar’s genius lay in conquering the best and versatile bowlers in different conditions all over the world repeatedly, and that is something Kohli should aspire to do," adds Srikkanth, who was the chief selector when Kohli was picked for India for the first time. Srikkanth was also the India captain when Tendulkar made his Test debut.
Bradman only had to play Tests. Tendulkar did not play many T20s. But Kohli has proved his worth in all three formats of the game.
Let’s forget Bradman for a moment and concentrate only on the modern greats and their ODI records. Kohli has played 171 ODIs so far: How does he compare with some of the greatest ODI players in history when they had played the same number of games? (see table)
Kohli’s numbers are better than those of Tendulkar, Lara and Ricky Ponting in terms of runs, average, strike rate and number of centuries (see box). In short, he is ahead of them in every aspect.
Let’s look at Tests now (see table). Kohli, who has played 41 Tests so far, trails Lara and Tendulkar when they were at the same stage. Nonetheless, Kohli is comparable to these greats and he can take inspiration from Ponting, who had an average similar to Kohli’s after 41 Tests, but improved greatly thereafter.
“I have seen both Tendulkar and Kohli in their teens," says former India opener Lalchand Rajput—Tendulkar made his first-class debut under him, and he was coach of the India Under-19 team that Kohli led. “Tendulkar was always a prodigy, but I saw a similar spark in Kohli. Not too many people believed me at that point in time. I remember Sanjay Manjrekar making fun of me when I told him almost a decade back that a Delhi boy is as good as Sachin."
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tendulkar used to carry the burden of expectations for India and coped with it gracefully and successfully. In this World T20, Kohli is probably feeling what Tendulkar must have felt often while taking guard: Here’s a team in need of rescuing, and I have to do it.
In this tournament, so far, Kohli alone has scored more runs than Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh combined. Can he single-handedly win the tournament for India now?
In the 1996 and 2003 World Cups, Tendulkar was the highest scorer of the tournament and played some of his most memorable ODI innings. Yet, he failed to win the coveted trophy on his own. Similarly, Kohli was one of the most successful batsmen in the 2012 World T20 and was in a destructive mood in the 2014 edition—in six matches, he scored 319 runs at an average of 106.33 and a strike rate of 129.14, with four half-centuries. Yet he could not prevent India’s loss in the finals.
Tendulkar’s unwavering determination finally ended in a World Cup trophy in 2011. Will this be Kohli’s tournament?
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.