Why Kohli is my Tendulkar
Why do we watch sport? Is it to gratify our primal flight or fight urges? Is it to live vicariously through the players we revere? Alternatively, perhaps with any work of entertainment, the ultimate objective is to seize that most elusive feeling; the swift and euphoric eruption of enthralling emotion.
In cricket, for close to a quarter of a century, for a billion Indian souls, Sachin Tendulkar was the living, breathing embodiment of that emotion.
The numbers he piled up are scarcely believable but Tendulkar’s genius, his enduring legacy and his impact on an emerging nation and its inhabitants went far beyond mere numbers, as extravagant as they may have been. He empowered an entire nation to believe, to have the audacity to reach for the stars and the conviction to see the journey through.
By the time he retired, for those who had the luxury of observing him in his prime and following his career for two decades, he had transcended the art of batting; he had completed his metamorphosis and acquired a role as an abstract, a feeling; Tendulkar had become an emotion. For viewers of that generation, it is perhaps blasphemous to even contemplate the notion of anyone being greater than the Little Master, after all, how does one eclipse a man who had acquired the moniker ‘God’?
The answer, if indeed it exists, is within the comprehension of another modern master, Virat Kohli. Over the last 3 years, in particular, Kohli has been ravaging records and maiming milestones, seemingly at will. Sample this frankly otherworldly statistic: Since November 2015, Kohli averages 94.47 in ODIs; 84.64 at home 100.23 away from home. Three years is a long time. These are what are now attributed to as ‘Bradmanesque’ numbers but if Kohli continues in this vein in ODIs, the triumphs of future greats will be adorned with an all-new sobriquet: ‘Kohliesque.’
To average 59.69 in ODIs is a miraculous feat, it was unheard of until Kohli got there and there is a surfeit of statistics that reinforce Kohli’s position as perhaps the formats pre-eminent batsman. However, numbers, even in a sport that is obsessed with them, are not everything. In the battle of emotion and statistics, emotion prevails, every time, every generation.
But does only Tendulkar hold court in the realm of emotions? Dare I suggest not anymore. For me, and millions of others like me, Kohli too is an emotion, Kohli is our Tendulkar.
I was born in 1993 and by the time I started watching cricket regularly, Tendulkar’s peak was already past the horizon. To me, he was analogous to Hercules, a mythic legend who had already rushed past 10 of his 12 labours. He had slain the Australian loins, conquered the 3-pronged Pakistani hydra and overpowered the South African bulls.
But like all legends, his was a tale passed down to me, through glowing editorials and choppy YouTube videos. Yes, I witnessed his last two labours, the World Cup triumph and the 100th century, but those triumphs, while extraordinary, felt like the epilogue to a wondrous novel, the bulk of which I missed. And once again, emotion triumphs statistics because while I’m in awe of his numbers and his achievements, I didn’t experience them, I didn’t live through them, I didn’t feel them.
With Kohli, I have had the privilege of all three. I have seen it all; his command at the crease, the roaring fire in his eyes, his invincible resolve, his otherworldly chasing pedigree and shots that could inspire ballads. This year alone, he exorcised his English demons in splendid fashion and traded blows with a formidable and varied South African pace attack and came out on top. The nadir of 2014 is well behind him; he was the highest run-getter in both those series and he will now travel to Australia, one of his favoured hunting grounds and the country where he announced himself as a Test batsman of repute 4 years ago with a whirlwind 4th innings hundred in Adelaide.
Great players all have that one year where they are at the absolute height of their powers, their annus mirabilis. But such has been Kohli’s consistency that it appears he is in the midst of his decennium mirabilis, an entire decade of domination.
Delving into numbers one last time, what does an innings of 82 runs off 51 balls in a chase of 161 in a virtual quarter-final of the World T20 communicate? Perhaps that it was an excellent innings in a high- pressure situation. Once again, numbers fail us because for those of us who watched that innings, the numbers were the least remarkable thing about it.
How does one quantify the unmistakable anxiety in the air?
The sinking realisation that a loss seems the more likely result, the dread of being knocked out of a major tournament at home. Kohli was seemingly unburdened; he delivered an infallible master class. During the 18th and 19th over of the chase, he single-handedly plundered 32 runs and sealed the game. But it was the fashion in which he scored those runs that left me awe-struck.
It is an innings that possibly will not find a place in his top-5, particularly after his more recent exploits. But it was an innings that left me numb, unsure of what I had seen, overwhelmed by Kohli’s genius. And to be fair, he himself had placed it in his top-3 then and said, “It’s perhaps the top right now.”
And his reason behind the declaration?
“Because I’m a bit emotional.”
I, therefore, find it natural to empathise with Tendulkar’s devotees, his desert storms could not have been mere hundreds for his followers then, and his many hundreds in a losing cause would not have been judged with the critical eye that they are today, because once you watch genius in its pomp, it becomes a part of you, you will hold on to it and never let it go.
Perhaps then, ‘Tendulkar’, much like ‘007’, is a codename for the maestros across generations. Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were ‘Tendulkars’, then there is Sachin himself, and now we have Kohli, who is new India’s new ‘Tendulkar’. The Shaws or Gills of this world might take up the mantle in the eyes of future viewers. ‘Tendulkar’ is an emotion and as long as cricket breathes in India, a ‘Tendulkar’ will rise.
The time for comparisons will come, but only when Kohli retires. For now, I consider myself immensely lucky to have experienced both Sachin and Kohli.
To paraphrase Odysseus, “If they ever tell my story, let them say I walked among giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die. Let them say I lived in the time of Tendulkar, a god among men. Let them say, I lived in the time of Kohli, a King among titans.”