Virat Kohli, who has been put in charge of leading the side for India’s ODI tour of Zimbabwe , is well aware of the humiliation India suffered on their last tour there in 2010. They had lost both group games against Zimbabwe in the tri-series, with a younger Kohli failing in both games. They had defeated Sri Lanka as usual with Kohli getting half-centuries in both games, but failing to convert them into centuries. Back then, he had only 2 centuries to his name vs. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. He was not the run-monster he is now, and many expected that he would take his time to mature- after all, he was a flashy Delhi boy coming to terms with fame and fortune.
Yesterday, in his 106th ODI innings (109 games), Kohli scored his 15th ODI ton in Harare. That, in many ways, is a mind boggling stat. To put it into perspective, he is the fastest in cricket history to reach his 15th ODI ton, and 34 games faster than the next guy on the list (Saeed Anwar). The fastest Indian before Kohli was Ganguly (144). A certain Tendulkar was far behind, a slow-starter in his young days until he began opening successfully, taking 184 games to achieve the same no. of tons. He, of course, had time on his side.
But so does Virat Kohli.
He is still a while away from his 25th Birthday, and is already one of India’s most successful ODI batsmen- not only in terms of pure stats where he is far ahead in today’s number-crunching game, but also in terms of the sheer importance of his innings. With Dhoni , he is easily India’s most successful chaser- ask Sri Lanka or Australia , they know what this means. He has catapulted himself to the top not on the back of meaningless ODI tons against the same team in the same conditions, but by pulling off some miraculous mind-bending chases with all the odds stacked against him. And these were huge innings, huge in the way it turned out the belief of his team. A youngster was doing this, the seniors’ failures were out into perspective, they were dropped and more youngsters were given a chance. And now India have two back to back trophies to show for it.
The signs of this appetite and anti-Indian talent of playing under pressure existed early in his career. His first ODI ton (Sri Lanka, who else) came while chasing a 300+ score at Eden Gardens. In Dec. 2009.
His next 2 ODI tons came in the same vein, chasing big scores set by Bangladesh and Australia.
His ton against Bangladesh in his first-ever World Cup game (the World Cup 2011 Opener) at Dhaka was his 5th ODI ton, and by then, he had pushed out other contenders from the middle order to seal his spot at no. 4- their most important batting position. He was only at no. 4 because Sehwag , Tendulkar and Gambhir had to be accommodated in the first 3 spots.
His first real overseas ODI century (not counting Dhaka) came in 2011 during the doomed tour of England . His 107 at Cardiff was nullified by D&L, and India went onto lose the game in a curtailed match- India’s first loss with a Kohli century (his 6th). His next 2 ODI centuries came at home where India whitewashed England and beat West Indies – both while chasing down moderate scores again.
Then on 28th February, 2012, Kohli changed gears and went to the next level. He has remained there since. With India down and out in the tri-series Down Under, they were set a target of 320. India chased it down in 36 overs, one of the most significant chases in ODI history on foreign soil- with Kohli scoring a stunning 133 of 86 balls. Though they still didn’t make the final, this went a long way in establishing India’s new batting star- and took him into the top 5 limited over batsmen in the world.
He followed it up with another consecutive century against Sri Lanka in the opening match of the Asia Cup (again at Dhaka). Once again, he had partnered well with Gambhir (who often scored when Kohli did), this time, batting at no. 3 after Sehwag had been ‘rested’. This was Kohli’s first century batting at no. 3. As Defending Champions though, India didn’t make the final- thanks to their loss against Bangladesh. Kohli fast became the only man standing in a sinking ship, gaining a reputation of playing the most stunning innings in doomed tournaments. His 183 against Pakistan will be remembered once again for chasing 330, after which he followed it up with another consecutive century in Sri Lanka (1 of 2 centuries in the bilateral series).
This was the third time Kohli had scored back-to-back ODI centuries in his short career. By now, he had 5 centuries against Sri Lanka, and along with Dhoni, had decoded and dismantled Lasith Malinga by now.
He was already on 13 ODI centuries at age 23. Then followed his only lean patch- of almost a year, during which he scored a few test centuries but had nothing to show in ODI cricket. He failed miserably in the 3-match ODI series against Pakistan (13 runs) and scored just 1 half century against England in their 3-2 win. The Champions Trophy went by, with Kohli scoring crucially in the semis and finals when India were in deep trouble.
Kohli was then made captain after one match in the tri-series in West Indies, and now he has 2 tons to show from his last 4 matches (2 as captain). The 102 against West Indies at Port Of Spain ended his year-long ton-less streak in ODIs, and this series against Zimbabwe could see him score a few more- especially if India keeps chasing 200+ scores.
Virat Kohli is now India’s premier ODI batsman, a perfect foil for India’s best finisher- MS Dhoni. Over the last 2 years, he has been the best ODI batsman in the world.
And now, his team his finally reaping some rewards off his silver bat.