World Cup Comment - Can Virat Kohli write a World Cup legacy of his own?
“Dhoni finishes off in style. The party begins in Mumbai.”
These are, as you would fondly remember, Ravi Shastri’s words overlaid on a gigantic six from MS Dhoni, to make India the first host nation to win the ODI World Cup. You must have come across this clip several times over the last eight years. Many of us who saw it live, might not have realized then, that the moment will turn a landmark in India’s cricketing history and will continue to inspire future generations.
India being crowned the World Champions, beating Australia in the quarters, Pakistan in the semis and Sri Lanka on the night of the big final, the skipper leading from the front, Yuvraj Singh ultimately coming of age on the big stage, the underlying emotion being: we have to do it for Sachin, all this has become a part of the great Indian folklore.
Another visual, that very few realized will turn out to be so prophetic, was Virat carrying the God of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, on his shoulders; the invisible baton exchanged hands there and then and Virat has been since lifting the load of the hopes of 1.3 billion Indians. “He's (Sachin) carried the burden of the team for 24 years, it was now about us carrying him and making him feel special by winning the World Cup, Kohli had then said,” citing Tendulkar’s immense contribution to Indian cricket.
Interestingly, as Team India lifted the trophy on that auspicious day of April 2, 2011, at 22, Virat was the youngest member of the team, while a 38-year-old Tendulkar was the eldest.
Virat, then, was only a sidekick to the likes of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni. He was a young man, talented, but yet to prove his mettle. Apart from his unbeaten ton against Bangladesh, and a half-century to go along with it, the 22-year-old had not much to showin the 2015 showpiece event. He had accumulated 282 runs from nine matches at an average of a tick over 35, good but nothing exhibiting of the caliber of a player that he was destined to become.
By December 2012, when Tendulkar bid adieu to ODI cricket, Virat had become an integral part of the team. Still a youngster, yes, but one that had been earmarked as the successor of the Master. In the 2014 T20 World Cup, in which India ended as the runners-up, Virat found himself at the top of the run charts, slamming 319 runs from six T20Is, at an imperious average of 106. An average of 106 in T20s! Now that’s more like the Virat we know.
Come the 2015 World Cup, Virat was at the height of his powers, with once main lead skipper MS Dhoni, at the fag end of his career. It's a totally different point that he has managed to maintain top-notch fitness and is set to feature in another ODI World Cup. However, in the 2015 edition, Virat did not ace the litmus test. He scored 305 runs from eight matches at an average in excess of 50, which, as many would say, was good enough. Good, beyond doubt, but not good enough, given his almost demi-god stature. He ended at the 21st spot in the tally of the top run-getters, behind Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. With the prowess that the Delhi boy possesses, he doesn’t belong anywhere lower than the top five and hence, the last ODI World Cup, by his own standards, was a bit of a letdown.
In 2019, the Indians skipper walks into the 2019 World Cup as the No. 1 ODI batsman and arguably the best limited-overs batsman that the world has ever seen. Kohli has taken the place that was once reserved for Sachin, and Sachin only. Team India banks on him to help them get over the line. Fans, both from India and worldwide, look up to him to dish out something special, every time he walks to the center to take his guard.
ODI cricketers are remembered by their returns in the quadrennial event. There are many Indian legends, like Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who still rue that they are without the World Cup winners’ badge on their chest. For Virat, the feat came even before he was old enough to understand its actual significance. But, this time, the stage is almost set for him to write a World Cup legacy, with his own pen, or bat rather.
©Cricket World 2019