Michael Bevan was arguably the most feared finisher in the game during his career but Virat Kohli has not simply taken the art of the chase to another level, he is playing a completely different sport.
Virat Kohli’s sensational match-winning unbeaten 154 against New Zealand this week was just the latest in a string of performances in which he has made the extraordinary look routine.
Trent Boult is the No. 1 ODI bowler in the world. And yet, to a Kohli in full flow he posed no more threat than a village-level pie-chucker as he nonchalantly dismissed him for 22 runs in an over to bring the scores level. A check-drive six in amongst the carnage was effortless and elegant and utterly dismissive of the New Zealand quick.
It further embellished Kohli’s claim to be the finest chaser the sport has ever seen. He averages 90.10 in successful ODI run-chases with 14 hundreds. The next best is Brian Lara on 68.58. At the age of 27, he already has the fourth most ODI hundreds – his 26 puts him behind only Sanath Jayasuriya (28), Ricky Ponting (30) and Sachin Tendulkar (49). He has got to the mark astonishingly quick too, taking 81 fewer innings than Tendulkar and a staggering 236 less than Jayasuriya.
Kohli has always been prodigiously talented and captained India to the Under-19 World Cup in 2008. However there were fears in the early part of his career that India could have another Vinod Kambli on their hands. Brash, arrogant and hot-headed were some of the accusations thrown his way. His most important attribute though is his competitiveness.
Kohli will never accept second-best and will push himself to gain any possible competitive edge.
An example of this was seen at the World T20 on home soil earlier this year in which Kohli played one of his finest knocks scoring 82 off 51 balls to beat Australia and secure a semi-final spot.
The sublime innings was made under intense pressure after India had slumped to 49-3 while chasing 161. With the asking rate climbing into double figures, the range of strokes were there as he led India to victory but the major feature of the knock was his lightning-quick running between the wickets alongside MS Dhoni.
He explained afterwards: “That’s why you do those fitness regimes, those sprints, and all the other tests that you go through. It all helps. I like to play for when I’m tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I’m on zero.”
Kohli is often compared to another of the great batsman of the age, AB de Villiers. The South African is a freak of nature, a lavishly gifted athlete who could have turned his hand toward any number of sports but thankfully chose cricket.
Kohli is a cricketing great in the making but his brilliance owes more to his utter dedication to self-improvement. He often trains with a high-altitude mask and controls closely what he eats. It is telling that he dropped his Royal Challengers Bangalore teammate Sarfaraz Khan during this year’s IPL due to poor fitness.
All the physical training in the world does not though a complete cricketer make. In Kohli there is the perfect combination of a cold and calculating mind and a white-hot passion for winning. His range of strokes are matched by very few in the game while his ability to manipulate fields and pierce gaps almost at will are remarkable. And then, there are those wrists.
The wrists start their mesmeric dance even before he has hit a shot in anger. The twirling of the bat as he surveys his surroundings. The deadly willow in his hand, the gunslinger’s glint in his eye as he settles in. This is just the warmup for the best is yet to come. Those subcontinental wrists, supple yet firm, capable of whipping the same ball for six over midwicket or opening up and gliding it square.
Once he has you in his sights, he is ruthless and will not be satisfied until the job is done.
After Kane Williamson had seen his side on the receiving end of Kohli’s most recent masterclass he said with an air of resignation: “I suppose if you don’t dismiss this man it probably doesn’t matter how many you get.”