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“Virat Kohli reminds me of myself.” In 2013, said Sir Vivian Richards, a man associated with revolutionising cricket during the 1970s and 80s. An apt comparison if ever there was one and it shows how fine a player Kohli was even then.

Five years on and he has continued his meteoric rise to the best batsman in the world, breaking several records along the way – and he does not seem likely to stop anytime soon.

He began his career with early success at the 2008 Under-19 World Cup, hitting a century against the West Indies. This led to him getting a place in India’s one-day side to tour Sri Lanka at just 20 years old. If it wasn’t for Vijay Mallya of Royal Challengers Bangalore picking Kohli for an Under-19 IPL game, India may never have found his talent. Mallya has admitted he did not realise the potential of Kohli at the time: “When I picked Virat for the RCB under-19 team, I did not realise I was picking the best batsman in the world.” This may have been an exaggeration but you get the drift.

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It took Kohli 14 innings to reach his first one-day international century, and he is now ranked as the world’s best one-day batsman. It has been incredible to see his transformation over the years, with him now being ranked as the 12th most prolific one-day batsman of all time in terms of runs scored, as well as averaging well over 50 in the format. The highlight of his one-day career was an incredible 183 against India’s fiercest rivals, Pakistan, in the 2012 Asia Cup, showing even in the biggest situations his mastery with the willow.

The form of the game in which Kohli showed his original prowess was T20, initially in the IPL. He had a stuttering start, scoring only one half-century in his first season, but in 2016 he set the world alight, scoring three hundreds in six innings and ending up as the top scorer in the tournament.

From then on he changed the game of T20 cricket. A new diet, training regime and attitude allowed him to score three consecutive fifties against Australia to win India the series in 2016, including his top international T20 score of 90 not out. Since then he has averaged 50 in the format and captained India to six winning series, after replacing legendary wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The growth of Kohli’s performances in this format has highlighted his transformation from boy to man.

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Stating in 2011 that he felt he needed to become the player that Indian opposition “needed to get out”, he did not start well in Tests, averaging just 15.2 after his first series in the West Indies. Months later, a century against Australia in Adelaide allowed him a place in India’s squad for a home series against New Zealand. This allowed him to finally show why he was touted for greatness, as he went on to average 106 across two Tests. With a home series against an inexperienced English side to come, it looked like India had found a long-term replacement for Sachin Tendulkar.

England had other ideas, with Kohli struggling against the spin of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar and only a hundred in Nagpur keeping him in the side. It was not until 2013 that Kohli truly kick-started his Test career as he scored hundreds in back-to-back series against South Africa and New Zealand.

However, a tour of England reopened old wounds as his technique was exposed by the swing of James Anderson. With a tour against a strong Australian to follow, it looked like Kohli would struggle, or so critics thought. Kohli went on to make four hundreds in three Tests, elevating him to world number one in all three formats in 2016. He continued to better himself year upon year, as emphasised by the great Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara in 2017: “I don’t think that [his record for runs in a calendar year across all formats] will last long the way Kohli is batting. He will probably overtake it next year and then do it again the year after. He is a different class.”

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His Test career carried on accelerating, as he became the first man to score double centuries in four consecutive series. His growth as a player also allowed him to become a strong and inspirational captain, leading India to the world number one position in 2018.

Then came last summer, when he made amends for his previous poor form in England with an outstanding Test series, scoring 593 runs – twice as many as anyone else from either side). Kohli is now a certified modern great and still has much more to show.

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July 2024