On a sultry Wednesday afternoon at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Virat Kohli re-opened an age-old debate about destiny.
Kohli climbed a summit – one that nobody else has scaled before – to become the only player to score fifty One-Day International hundreds in cricket history.
In that moment, during the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand, with a number of bigwigs from Bollywood watching from the stands, it seemed like the greatest script in the most perfect setting had been designed for him. And Kohli gave that reminder, that if anybody could write or rewrite destiny, it was him.
A spiritual man now, he often acknowledges a higher power in moments of success, yet he has made it exceedingly obvious through his actions that he is not one to resign himself to fate or destiny.
He takes charge of his own story instead. And with it, he has taken India to greater heights in the cricketing world, as India beat New Zealand by 70 runs to reach the fourth World Cup final.
From being unfit to becoming one of the fittest cricketers to have played the game. From coming across as a brash brat to a thoughtful team player, from a star in the making to a role model. From being a diamond in the rough to a certified legend of the sport – Kohli may have been destined for greatness but his 50th ODI century was a reminder that he went out of his way to show that he deserved it too.
On Wednesday, amidst the sapping heat, Kohli battled cramps yet ran hard to get the two runs off Lockie Ferguson. The result was the hero of his own story, starring in a scene that was hard to top.
Breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s long-standing record, Kohli stood tall among sporting greats. Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, David Beckham also present at the stadium, who stood up to applaud another great among them.
Reaching the milestone after a scampering for two runs was almost poetic, for it was exactly that kind of grind that created his destiny.
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Coming full circle
A wiser, older Kohli does not celebrate as strongly anymore but on this day, there was a glimpse of his aggression from the younger days in the punch in the air, sheer passion in his jump and also childlike delight after completing the ton.
He soaked in the applause of the greats in the stadium and the love of his wife, who was blowing him kisses. He may have been on his knees, but it looked like the satiation of knowing he had fulfilled their expectations, and that of millions around the world.
“If I could paint a perfect picture I would want this to be the picture,” said Kohli to the broadcasters after his innings. “My life partner – the person I love the most is sitting there, my hero is sitting there and I was able to get the 50th [ODI hundred] in front of all of them and all these stands in Wankhede as well, such a historic venue so it was amazing.”
For many years, the question was whether there would ever be a batter who could match Tendulkar’s mind-boggling numbers in ODIs. Kohli was identified as the potential successor to do so. And multiple times, when Kohli performed underwhelmingly by his lofty standards, questions were raised. Would he be able to do it at all?
Even as Kohli surpassed one milestone after another, he maintained that he was far away from the level of greatness Tendulkar achieved. Yet, he has done enough to be called an all-time ODI great. It all makes perfect sense, like an evitable plot in the script, that Kohli finds some of the most opportune moments to make history.
On his 35th birthday, playing against South Africa, he equalled Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI tons. Two innings later, Kohli surpassed it on the very same date Tendulkar played his final international innings precisely ten years ago. At the very same venue.
Clarity of plans
This was Kohli’s third century of the tournament and with a total of 711 runs, he has scored the most runs for any batter in a single World Cup edition, also going past Tendulkar’s total of 673 runs in 2003. Kohli once again discussed his role as the anchor during this innings and the tournament as a whole, a duty handed to him by the team management.
“A big game today, I had to play the role I have played throughout the tournament so that the guys around me can go and express themselves,” he explained. “I try to dig deep and bat long so the guys around me can play around me and have that confidence in the later overs where I can dominate with the bat as well. I’m just glad everything came together so nicely and we put up a great total on the board.”
India won the toss and batted first, putting up a massive total of 397/4 in 50 overs. They eventually bowled out the Kiwis for 327 in the 49th over.
The clarity of plans was displayed in Kohli’s partnership with Shubman Gill (80) and then Shreyas Iyer (105). Against pace, Kohli was unsurprisingly taking the lead but against spinners Mitchell Santner, Rachin Ravindra and Glenn Phillips, he let Gill take charge. It worked out well for Kohli, who prefers to play risk-free before he finishes the game in the death overs.
Iyer, fresh of a hundred against the Netherlands in Bengaluru, decided to take on both spin and pace and essentially freed the Indian innings that had been pegged back in the middle overs after Gill retired hurt.
Throughout the tournament, for all of India’s batting prowess, it has arguably been the pace bowling trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami that have stolen the show.
They were not as effective on the night, as New Zealand made a valiant chase. But with that mammoth target set by the batters, eventually the pressure was getting to the Kiwis and player of the match Shami was quick to react.
Earlier in the tournament, he set a new record for most wickets in World Cups for an Indian. On Wednesday he finished with figures of 7/57 – the best by an Indian in a World Cup match. It was a performance that ensured that India got their first win against New Zealand in an ICC knockout match and step into the final.
However, as far as personal lessons of importance go, Kohli’s milestone perhaps provides direction in a philosophical dilemma for many. Kohli was destined for greatness indeed but his perfect picture is definitely not down to just divine decree.
Kohli took charge of his own destiny.