Comparisons, they say, are odious but there are times when placing things side by side can lend perspective.
On Tuesday, when he steps out at the Oval to face the West Indies, Virat Kohli will make his 100th ODI appearance, becoming only the 30th Indian cricketer to do so.
Only two teammates of his in the Champions Trophy squad — M.S. Dhoni (220) and Suresh Raina (160) — have featured in more games.
At 24, it is a resounding endorsement of his abilities, a measure of how far he’s left his peers behind.
“It is a proud moment for all those associated with him from his formative years in cricket,” says Raj Kumar Sharma, Kohli’s coach from the age of nine.
“I remember the first match vividly and wonder how time has flown. He is playing his 100th one-day match. He was so excited when he was picked. Now he is one of the best on the circuit.”
In 99 matches, Kohli has scored 4,085 runs at a shade under 50. Raina, who has 61 caps more, is still eight runs behind that tally. They have batted in different positions and it is not completely fair to compare them, but it is no grave injustice either.
Rohit Sharma, who debuted two years before Kohli, has played 10 matches (and 12 innings) fewer; but the former has only scored half as many runs (2,130). Kohli has scored 13 hundreds already to Rohit’s two.
Over the last two years, Kohli has been the world’s most prolific one-day batsman, scoring 2,129 runs in 44 matches (and as many innings). Eight of his 13 hundreds have come in this period. Kumar Sangakkara comes second, with his 1,862 runs in 49 games (46 innings).
Recognition has emphatically arrived in the form of the ICC ODI Cricketer-of-the-Year and the BCCI Indian Cricketer-of-the-Year (Polly Umrigar Award) honours.
“There is a big difference in the Virat we have seen in the last two years,” says the Delhi Ranji Trophy coach Vijay Dahiya, someone who has watched Kohli since his first-class debut.
“In terms of fitness, he has made amazing progress. The treadmill is his best friend when he is not playing. His mental and physical fitness go hand in hand.”
Dahiya also ascribes Kohli’s success to his intelligence on the field.
“His smartness is an enviable quality,” he says. “If he has batted consistently, it is because he can assess the game more than anyone. Plus, he never takes chances, not even in T20. He knows which bowler to pick when — see how he has gone after Lasith Malinga. He has stopped throwing his wicket away after getting set. I am sure he can become a great game finisher.”
In these two years, Kohli has also come a long way as a Test batsman too, after initial struggles. At press conferences, he has been at pains to state the importance he places on performances in the longer format. After four poor innings on the last tour of Australia, he turned things around in Perth before making a breakthrough century in Adelaide.
Against England in Nagpur last year, he scored a gritty hundred, consigning to the bin any doubts over his patience.
Better in Tests
“I won’t compare him (to others),” says Raj Kumar.
“In my opinion, he is fit for Tests. He is better in Tests than one-dayers because he takes time to settle down. He has the technique and temperament to play long innings. I want Virat to be known as a successful Test cricketer.”
Considering Kohli is only in his early twenties, it is dizzying to wonder how far he can go. “He is hungry and is determined to grow into a batsman who can be relied on in all conditions,” Raj Kumar says.
“The sky is the limit.”