Leveling Sachin Tendulkar with 49th.

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Virat Kohli leveled the great Sachin Tendulkar with 49 ODI hundreds to his name. He etched his name in the history books. 3 years ago, when he was out of form, this looked like a distant dream in the near future. We were so used to seeing a Virat Kohli century every other innings which was a routine back then, that his lean patch made us realise how precious those hundreds were. Maybe that was needed for an even grand comeback to the international arena. Kohli had already missed 3 possible century chances in this tournament. Millions of hearts throbbed as he faced Kagiso Rabada 1 run short of his achievement.

Virat Kohli punched the ball off his back foot to take a historic single of his career to bring about his 49th ODI hundred and level the great Sachin Tendulkar. A very sedate celebration: The arms aloft in the air as he took off the helmet looked at the heaven with a sense of satisfaction and relief soaking in the great achievement and the loud reception of the crowd. Virat Kohli has now scored 49 centuries in 175 innings less than the Little Master. This shows the consistency and the greatness of Kohli.

“He’s a man who writes his own scripts..”, chirped Mark Nicholas on air. Indeed, there couldn’t have been a better occasion and a venue to score his 49th ton. A record breaking century on a high octane clash between the table toppers that too on his 35th birthday. Life came at a full circle for Virat whose first ODI hundred came at the same venue in 2009 against Sri Lanka. The evolution from a young promising talent to an absolute legend of the game. It has been quite a journey from a young Delhi lad fist pumping and jumping in the air after a century to a silent and subdued celebration after scoring a century. The celebrations changed but the passion and hunger still burning strong. The standard he set not just with the bat but also in the field and fitness has been nothing short of exemplary. It was quite evident today as he was still charging for an extra run on the last ball of the innings after being there at the crease for almost half of the innings.

Virat had a sense of ‘something more today’

There’s a thing with great players. They know the gravity of the occasion. They are completely switched on and ready for a challenge. Kohli acknowledged that he knew it was a big game against a very tough opponent. He felt it from within that it was going to be something special rather than just another World Cup game.
“It was a big game,” Kohli said after winning the Player of the Match award. “We were probably playing the toughest team in the tournament that we had played so far, to be honest. They played some amazing cricket. There was this motivation of wanting to do well for the team. Because it happened on my birthday, people made it a bit more special for me. I had this sense of ‘it’s going to be something more today’ rather than ‘it’s just one more game in the World Cup’. I did wake up with that excitement, yes.”

Virat started off with a flier scoring crisp boundaries against the pacers. The cover drive and an on drive early on in the innings means that Kohli is completely switched on and in the zone. But as the spinners came on, they found a lot of turn on the surface. As the innings progressed, the ball was stopping onto the surface making it difficult to hit through the line. It was quite a challenge to rotate the strike as Maharaj was consistent with his line and length. Virat along with Shreyas had to grind hard and ensure not to give their wicket to Maharaj. Virat was very nimble with his footwork while facing the Maharaj and Shamsi. He was entirely forward or back to maneuver the ball into gaps to find a way against the tight close in field set by Bavuma. Although he did not get boundaries against them, he looked quite assured against them. The pair made batting look very easy whereas South Africa looked clueless against the left arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja.

Virat Kohli’s entire game is revolved around running hard between the wickets. Kohli, who recognised that this pitch was not tailor made for shot making, scored 61 out of the total 101 runs by running which includes 49 singles and 6 doubles. This contributes to 60% of his total runs by running. Not bad for a player who just 35!

It did not have a typical Virat Kohli progression. It did not have a perfect Virat Kohli finish to it. He could not shift gears post his 50. But he showed the intent to go big but was not getting his timing right on a difficult pitch. This was his slowest century in terms of the strike rate. But with Virat Kohli as the pillar from one end, Suryakumar Yadav and Jadeja could play a cameo to help India post more than the competitive total.
In the end, the total of 326 proved to be too huge for South Africa. They couldn’t even outscore the runs scored by Virat Kohli. They fell short by 18 runs. The longer the match went on, the more we realised how crucial that innings was.

What separates Virat from the rest

There have been innings where he dominates the bowlers from the word go making batting look extremely easy. But today’s innings demanded him to be different. He scraped his way towards the hundred run by run. Quite reflective of his career. Nothing has come easy to Virat Kohli. It’s his ability to recognise a competitive total for a particular pitch and play low risk shots to build an innings and explode at the end which makes him so consistent. While other players are more talented and gifted having a wide range of shots in their armoury, Kohli has created magic with his limited technique. It’s his mental fortitude and hunger to contribute for the team that sets him apart from the rest. It is his understanding of the game and the ability to construct an innings that makes him a legend. Watching Virat Kohli construct an ODI innings is an art very few are masters of. It’s like hearing your favorite song. It just appeals to you in different ways every time you watch it. Every time it looks better than the previous.

The entire batting order revolves around Virat Kohli. Rohit Sharma is able to play carefree fearless cricket at the top of the order knowing that he has the cushion of ever reliant Virat Kohli below him. Shreyas, Gill and KL have been quite vocal as to how they have learned pacing an innings from the best in the business. Virat has hardly put a foot wrong in this tournament. The run machine has 6 ODI half centuries in his last 8 innings. He has been the man of crisis being the glue that holds the batting together. Hope the Virat juggernaut rolls on as India eye on an elusive ICC trophy after a long wait of 12 years…

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