Virat Kohli is Fast Approaching the Sachin, Gavaskar LeagueTheQuintOpinion
This story has been republished from The Quint's archives on the occasion of Virat Kohli's 30th birthday on 5 November.)
The phenomena called Virat Kohli continues to surge in International Cricket. The more he plays, the more he performs and the more he pushes one to write about him. He keeps performing and raising the bar.
The Indian skipper keeps scoring centuries, conquering new records and setting more benchmarks, especially in One-Day cricket, where his record is exceptional. What Virat has achieved in this format at the age of 30 is more than a lifetime of work for many legends in the sport.
He has already surpassed the great Ricky Ponting to become the second highest century-maker in ODIs. Only the great Tendulkar is now ahead of him.
But beyond these numbers and records, Virat is achieving something that’s far more significant and relevant for Indian cricket.
Virat is gradually entering the league of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, who with their talent and personality changed the perception of Indian cricket, and also contributed beyond the 22-yard cricket pitch.
Gavaskar and Tendulkar weren’t just cricketers; they were the social icons of their time – inspirational leaders who set the tone and agenda for the nation that’s always craving for sporting legacies.
Gavaskar was the first Indian batsman whose strong defence, sheer resilience and courage installed the much-needed belief in the generation of 70’s. With a skullcap on his head, he faced the most fearsome fast bowlers of his times. With his technique and temperament, he parked aside fears associated with the game. This five-feet-few-inches batsman from a middle-class Maharashtrian family raised the stature of Indian sport many folds.
Along with Prakash Padukone, he introduced to Indian sports words like commitment, concentration and focus. That was the first time the value of professionalism and work ethic was realised. His efforts helped team India find its own identity and inspired the next generation of cricket in the country.
Two years after Gavaskar’s retirement from Indian cricket, India saw the emergence of Sachin Tendulkar. With a more or less similar background and values, Tendulkar took the world by storm with his talent and love for the game.
For the next two decades, Indian sports was identified by him to such an extent that former United States President Barack Obama knew about him. Tendulkar's class and consistency wasn’t only appreciated in the world of cricket. His greatness was compared to the legends of other sports. From Federer to Bolt to Tiger Woods, everyone knew this man, and he was in their league.
This was a new high for Indian sport. In the second half of his career, Tendulkar had the most talented bunch of cricketers playing alongside him. Along with Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman, Indian cricket was touching new heights.
However, Tendulkar wasn’t just a role model on the field. He remained the faithful servant of his sport, and his balance on and off the field created a new handbook of ‘how to be great and level-headed’ at the same time.
For twenty years and beyond, Tendulkar became the symbol of Indian youth’s aspiration and ambition. He inspired the new generation of Indian sports. Let alone Virat, he was a hero to Saina Nehwal and Vijender Singh as well. His influence was such in Indian society that the Indian government conferred him with the prestigious Bharat Ratna.
And just when Tendulkar and his generation were making their way out of the sport, the young boy from Delhi caught everyone’s attention.
Virat Kohli, loaded with passion, ability and abundant energy has gradually been changing the concept of a quintessential Indian cricketer.
His unwavering commitment towards his profession has given an entirely new dimension to Indian cricket.
Gone are those days when one could survive with skill alone. Virat’s deep-rooted fascination toward fitness and work ethic has ensured that every cricketer in this team has to be an athlete first and cricketer second. He leads by example, and anyone around Virat is bound to get enamoured by his intensity and exuberance.
The Delhi boy flipped his lifestyle, fitness regime and work ethics to prove that consistency in your vocation is in direct proportion to the amount of hard work you do and how disciplined you are. The results are there for everyone to see.
The youth today not only wants to bat like him but also wants to have a body like him. These traits of him are inspiring people beyond cricket. Urban India today wants to be fit and healthy and Virat is their poster boy. The boy who eats right, speaks right, trains right and as a result, performs exceedingly well.
In his personal life too, Virat stands for everything he believes in – from the no-cracker drive on Diwali to preserve the environment or woman empowerment.
Virat bought the much-needed honesty and forthrightness towards the celebrities’ culture in India. The way he has handled his relationship with Anushka Sharma is a testimony to that. In an interview with Gaurav Kapur, he was candid and frank to admit that the lady in his life had helped transform the Delhi ka ladka (Delhi boy) to a fine cricketer, symbolising maturity and statesmanship. His attitude is refreshing and worth emulating.
On the cricket field, the more significant challenges for Virat would start after his birthday on 5 November. This young leader will set off on voyage to conquer battles in Australia, New Zealand and more importantly the World Cup in England. On these tough tours, every ounce of his leadership and character will be tested. But looking at where Virat is standing at 30, physically and mentally, he couldn’t have been better prepared than this.
Happy Birthday Virat! the journey beyond 30 looks far more exciting. As the conventional logic in cricket says that ‘batsmen mature after 30,’ the best of Virat is yet to come. But for the moment let’s raise a toast to how far he has come, in the league of the cricketing greats – Gavaskar and Tendulkar.
(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)