Could Virat Kohli be the GOAT? Rudraneil Sengupta breaks it down - Hindustan Times
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Could Virat Kohli be the GOAT? Rudraneil Sengupta breaks it down

ByRudraneil Sengupta
Oct 28, 2023 05:19 PM IST

He could soon surpass Tendulkar’s 49 ODI centuries. But it’s not the stats. Kohli plays the field in a way that belongs in chess, and is rarely seen in cricket.

To witness a Virat Kohli chase unfold is one of the great pleasures and privileges of being a sports fan.

Kohli went past 26,000 runs in international cricket faster than anyone in history. At this World Cup, he has made 354 runs across just five games, an average of 118. (AP) PREMIUM
Kohli went past 26,000 runs in international cricket faster than anyone in history. At this World Cup, he has made 354 runs across just five games, an average of 118. (AP)

There is perhaps nothing in contemporary sport quite like it, so the comparisons need to be drawn from history: Roger Federer gliding through the Wimbledon grass; Rafael Nadal screeching through the red dust of Roland Garros; Xavi, Iniesta and Messi weaving tiki-taka magic at peak Barcelona; the late great Jonah Lomu’s balletic bulldozing acts for the All Blacks rugby team; Mike Tyson weaving and ducking en route to the delivery of a knockout uppercut… you get the drift.

As he stands on the cusp of equalling, and surpassing, Sachin Tendulkar’s monumental record of 49 ODI centuries — no one would bet against Kohli going past the mark at the ongoing World Cup, which he has made his own — the numbers that define him are legendary. Kohli went past 26,000 runs in international cricket faster than anyone in history, in 33 fewer innings than it took Tendulkar. At this World Cup, he has made 354 runs across just five games, an average of 118. His 27 centuries in chases is 10 more than the next best in cricket history (Tendulkar again). And no one comes close to his average of 65-plus when batting second.

When addressing his sheer technical ability with the bat, it is perhaps best to invoke the speechlessness of captain Rohit Sharma, who, after Kohli engineered yet another successful pursuit in India’s last World Cup match against New Zealand a week ago, said: “There’s nothing much to say about Virat.” Nothing much, except this: he has all the shots. What he doesn’t have, which is an ability to hit sixes at will, he almost doesn’t need.

Try to imagine, though, the mental acuity, resilience and attitude that are required to successfully chase down all kinds of totals, in all formats, in all manner of match situations, as he does. Where does the calm, iron control come from? What does it feel like to be the other team, helplessly manipulated no matter what manoeuvres they try?

How does Kohli see the chase himself? It must be a unique kind of vision, akin to how great chess grandmasters see the board: not static, but in perpetual motion, with hints of all the permutations and combinations that lie ten moves ahead.

“I count in overs remaining, not balls. It makes it easier,” he once said (as if that explained anything of the vision).

“I am always learning. I like watching, observing, listening and learning,” he said to me in an interview a few years ago. “I am doing it all the time. And from what I learn, I adapt.”

That, in a nutshell, is Kohli describing what he is doing during a chase. It helps explain the lack of nerves — if he is consumed in the moment, watching, learning, adapting, where is the time or space for anxiety?

“It’s also because I don’t think of the result,” Kohli said. “I believe that the mindset has to remain the same whether I am doing well or not, in any situation. When I am batting, I am very composed, very sure of where I stand.”

Where he stands now is just a few steps from what a player of his calibre deserves: the ability to call a World Cup his own.

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