MUMBAI: In the fourth ball of the 41st over Virat Kohli pushed Locke Ferguson and ran hard for 2 runs. In an innings, of accumulation, consolidation and aggression, these two runs took Kohli over the line between greatness and cricketing divinity.
As the only man on this planet to have scored 50 one-day hundreds, this world may wait for generations for another gladiator, who radiates a notch higher on the big stage. In the semi-finals of the World Cup, he went past his hero and mentor Sachin Tendulkar’s record, in his presence, and that of sporting royalty of the highest class. On one end of the ground in the commentary box was the legend Viv Richards whose exploits in the first two World Cups drew the constitution of one-day batting.
And on the other end, in the President’s box was David Beckham applauding Virat and the Indian batting juggernaut, watching the cricketing version of ‘Bend it like Beckham’- ‘Score it like Virat’.
As Virat said after his knock “Doing it in front of your life partner (Anushka) and your hero (Sachin) is the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Nasser Hussain, the former England cricket captain put it succinctly when he said, “I’ve seen Sachin. I never felt I would see anyone go past Sachin’s record in my lifetime. Kohli is a modern-day master who has gone past the little master.”
Even David Beckham said he had goose bumps. “I knew when I was coming into this stadium that this was special. I had goose bumps.” Beckham then went onto say that he was aware of Sachin’s greatness but to see Virat overtaking Sachin’s record in his home ground was “a piece of history.”
In 2011, on this very ground, when India won the World Cup, Kohli lifted Sachin on his shoulders and said, “He’s carried Indian cricket on his shoulders for years. It’s time we carried him on our shoulders.”
And on this Wednesday evening, as he bowed after reaching his hundred, towards Sachin, it was as if to say, “I will keep carrying Indian cricket as long as I can.”
As he loaded his innings every foundation stone of his batting greatness came into play. Leaning forward to open the face of the bat, a nonchalant six with a flick off the wrist versus Tim Southee followed by a gentle dab to third man for a four, a pull off a short ball through midwicket, off Trent Boult, by a simple roll of the wrists, will be etched in cricketing memory of a generation. These will be replayed and retold at fireside chats in Indian homes in the US and UK.
But what might be forgotten is the slow build-up of singles and twos, working the gaps and rotating the strike that has become the hallmark of the Virat Kohli School of innings building.
And around him, the next generation was getting ready to hold him aloft when he eventually rides into the sunset, whenever that is, and surely many hundreds later. Shreyas Iyer whose second hundred in two games, was the ringing of the loudest bell on the world stage saying he has arrived. Iyer’s coming of age and the class of this knock needs a separate story altogether.
But there will be a time when the old order will change yielding place to the new. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have able successors to carry their legacy forward.
But there’s a crown prince who may well, do an encore and bow to Virat after surpassing his ODI record, ten years (or less later). His name is Shubman Gill. And if cramps hadn’t forced him to leave the field, when batting on 79, he would have finally got his first 100 of this World Cup. Stepping out to Lockie Ferguson bowling at 143 km per hour and hitting it hit it on top of the bounce between cover and cover point or waiting on a slower short ball and roiling his wrists to pull it past short fine leg for a four, were just two fragments of his stroke making which has the stamp of greatness already etched on it. And he’s not even 25.
In terms of a stage, this was the biggest. In the lives of most of this generation of cricketers, devoid of the pressures of history and greatness around them, the cumulative impact and significance of a series of achievements and events, was massive. But it will dawn on them later.
The debate over whether Virat Kohli is the greatest Indian batsman of the modern era was officially buried under the red soil of the Wankhede stadium, a soil that has nurtured the Indian captain Rohit Sharma, Shreyas Iyer and even Surya Kumar Yadav.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma’s emergence as a leader of men and not just a bowler-destroying opener has been established.
On this day, there was an all-around pronouncement of Rohit Sharma as a leader who can, not just govern Indian cricket till he retires, but establish a Rohit Sharma philosophy of selfless leadership, across sport, governance and business.
His 47 on the scorecard may not signify what it meant for the team, but let’s just say this. His 47 of 29 balls with four fours and four sixes was a blow in the solar plexus to a New Zealand attack, which can take more than a mile if you give them an inch.
Rohit is like the mother lion in a pack who chases, hunts down and kills prey and then steps back to let her family finish the process and commence the feast.
He is the headmaster, who lays down the rules and plays by them. He is the father figure who builds a foundation and invites his folks to build.
And when India is defending totals, either a big one against New Zealand in the semi-final or a low one against England at Lucknow, his handling of his bowlers with a sense of calm, is like a cool monk driving a Ferrari.
When Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell were building their 180-odd third-wicket partnership and were seriously poised to cause a massive upset, Sharma didn’t flag. In fact, when Shami dropped the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, with sighs of “Shami has dropped the cup”, Rohit gave him the next over in a sign of confidence.
From then on, it was a different Shami. He ripped through the New Zealand batting with seven wickets, the highest by an Indian bowler in a World Cup.
Leadership is not about getting the highest wickets or runs. Rohit Sharma has shown, it is as much or more about enabling your teammates to be heroes, stars or even Kings.