Opening that bottle of fine Scotch to celebrate his achievement can wait for now. At the rate he’s going, it won’t be too long before he rakes up another record. What about a beer then? Make that a strong beer. A vodka perhaps? Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s time to drink up – Virat Kohli has just become the fastest to reach 6,000 ODI runs. It has taken him 135 innings, 6 innings lesser than the great Vivian Richards himself.
At 26, Virat Kohli’s boots are already too big to fill. In the 7 years since he made his debut, he has already scored 21 centuries in ODIs. To set a context, Sachin Tendulkar scored 49 ODI centuries over 24 years. He’s no.4 in the test line-up. Till recently, no. 4 was Sachin Tendulkar’s position. In plain terms, he’s considered to be the heir to God himself.
But he’s no saint.
He isn’t particularly an enigma, but he is one hell of a character. His expressions read like a series of Whatsapp emoticons. This lad, he doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears his heart on his face as well. He dates a film star and she was held responsible for his tumultuous English Summer where he scored 134 in 10 innings and seemed to have forgotten where his off-stump was located. It wasn’t enough that he had to defend James Anderson, he also had to defend the presence of his near and dear ones who had come on tour with him. He went into the tour as one of the linchpins and when he emerged from it, lynch mobs were baying for his blood.
But he’s seen worse.
In 2006, when he was playing a Ranji tie against Karnataka, he got news that his father had passed away. He continued playing, scored a 90 in what were obviously overwhelmingly trying circumstances and went for the funeral only after he was dismissed. Dad didn’t see his son grow up and turn into one of the finest players of the modern era. Dad wasn’t there when the team won the world cup and his son won countless hearts when he said of Tendulkar “he’s carried the burden of the nation on his shoulders for 21 years, so it’s time we carried him on our shoulders.” Was that the moment when the young boy became a young man and finally came of age?
Every father will think twice before giving his daughter’s hand in marriage to him, but every other eligible girl wouldn’t mind eloping with him. He swears like a sailor and makes youthful indiscretion seem like a lost opportunity. After reaching his maiden test century in Adelaide 2 years ago, in a tour right out of hell where the feted Indian batting line-up crumbled to pieces like China glass that fell on concrete, he heralded that pivotal moment by brandishing his bat and spewing profanities at the Australia players. Watchers called it amateurish. Rahul Dravid recently said “he will mature with age and learn to calm down.”
Calm down and Virat Kohli in the same sentence ?
But it could have so easily gone awry.
After winning the U-19 World Cup in 2008, he looked like he would throw it all away – the poster boy for how not to let success get to your head. It helped that he played with the likes of Anil Kumble in his franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the likes of Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar in the national team – men of stature who stood over his shoulder and ensured that he didn’t take all of his prodigious talents and trade them for a few seconds of madness.
He isn’t the boy next door nor does he seek that tag. The India he grew up in is different from the one his predecessors grew up in. He won the first ever world cup he played. He is from what you can call ‘the IPL generation’. From the looks of it, he is the life of every party. He even got into an infamous tiff in an IPL game with his country mate Gautam Gambhir before they were literally pried away. When the team missed qualifying for the Super 8s in the 2012 t20 world cup, he had tears in his eyes.
In an age of artifice and avarice, he has understood what stands the test of time. While the jamboree of t20 cricket may lavish you with riches, fame and put your name under the arc lights, sometimes all in one night, test cricket is still the custodian of cricketing immortality. Ask Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Ask them all the elixir to cricketing immortality and in all probability the answer will be “become a great test player.” Ask Yuvraj Singh, who has more accomplishments than he can count and is rated as one of the best players of the shorter formats if it hurts that he never became a test regular. Kohli has it in him. 3 of his 6 test centuries have come overseas. But he also realized the dedication it requires when over the course of an English Summer, he looked everything but confident and assured. Excellence is a double edged sword – when you slip and graze the pastures of mediocrity, you are reminded that with great power also comes great responsibility.
It doesn’t harm to learn the value of humility either. Indignation may make for good TRPs, but not always good legacies. Humility is a bedrock of true greatness and without it, greatness loses its soul. Look at Mike Tyson, who carved his own sense of right and wrong in his head and lived life as though the world would forever be at his beck and call. When he burned through his 300 million dollar fortune, served jail time for rape and nearly died because of his alcoholism, everyone said “I told you so.” Kohli is no Tyson nor will he ever become one, but the lesson to be learned here is the art of keeping your feet on the ground while trying to kiss the sky at the same time. Arrogance doesn’t build bonds, it only creates a circle of hangers on who disappear when the going gets tough. Humility on the other hand, never goes out of style.
If the world were to crash and burn tomorrow, what would we be left with? I don’t know but if you saw him bat on February 28th 2012, you would have thought that the world was ending. Needing 321 in 40 overs to stand a chance of qualifying for the finals of the CB series, he pulverized 133 of 86 balls and steered India to an improbable win. It wasn’t just that the innings was a supremely special effort and seen in context of the series, one in which the Indian team put up absolutely no fight at all, it was a knock that rejuvenated an Indian side that had lost its bearings.
So how will the history books remember him? There’s still a long way to go to make that pronouncement. Will he make peace with his prodigious talents and calm down as Dravid has predicted, or will he end up like Michael Jordan, who sportswriter Rick Reilly termed the “world’s first sore winner” after he delivered his highly controversial Hall of Fame enshrinement speech?
Right now, the world is his for the taking. Just do the math – in tests, he has scored 1855 runs in 29 matches at an average of 39. In ODIs, he has scored 6208 runs in 146 matches at an average of 52.61. In T20s, he has scored 972 in 28 matches at an average of 46.28. In the IPL, he captains the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. He is tipped to take over from MS Dhoni whenever he seeks to reclaim his sanity and relinquish captaincy. He will get his first taste of test captaincy when he captains India in the first test at Brisbane owing to an injury that has side-tracked Dhoni. He has played alongside some of the greats of Indian cricket and is conscious of their legacy, but their shadows don’t loom over him. When he reached the 6,000 runs milestone, he didn’t look around for people to curse and spew profanities at. Instead, he sealed it with a kiss. Oh, the poetry of it all; rock star cricketer blows a kiss to his film star girlfriend when he breaks a record.
So coming back to where we started, which is the best drink to open to celebrate his recent feat? Not sure. But if he keeps going the way he is going, one thing is for sure – there’ll be a lot champagne bottles that will be popped open.