There have been 18 days of cricketing action so far on India’s tour of South Africa. At the end of it, the entire South African batting lineup has only one century to show far - captain Faf du Plessis’ ton in the first ODI that came in a losing cause. Virat Kohli, meanwhile, has scored four centuries all by himself. Two of them scores of 150-plus.
Talk about being miles ahead of the rest - Kohli has been a personification of that in the past month.
On February 1, 2018 at Kingsmead, Durban, Kohli scored a century in the run-chase. (Duh!) He celebrated it by repeatedly pointing to the ground - a gesture, that he explained later, that he has finally scored an ODI century on South African soil, to signify that he belonged here.
On February 16, 2018 at Supersport Park, Centurion, the celebration was more benign. It was an expression of joy, not letting go of any pent up frustration. It was after his third ODI century on South African soil, a joint-record for visiting batsmen. And he finished the ODI series with 558 runs - that’s more than Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Aiden Markram and David Miller combined.
That’s the kind of form he has been in.
UPDATE: Kohli becomes first Indian cricketer to cross 900 points in ICC ODI player rankings
Now how does one describe such madness? There is only so much that can be said about Kohli’s greatness, especially while chasing.
(For the record, these are the updated numbers of Kohli, when batting second: 113 innings, 28 not-outs, 5772 runs, average 67.90, strike rate 94.05, 21 fifties, 27 centuries)
Ravi Shastri, in his own inimitable style, offered a tip to a journalist in the post-match press conference. “Go to a book-store and buy the latest version of Oxford dictionary, because you will need it for the vocabulary,” said Shastri as Kohli broke into what can only be described as a sheepish grin.
Exaggerated, but perhaps he has a point. Kohli’s batting is entering a realm where words stop to do justice.
Numbers, then, are the next resort.
Kohli started things off by going past Kevin Pietersen’s record for the most runs in a bilateral series played in South Africa.
To add context to the record he broke for most runs in a bilateral series, take a look at the players at No 2 and No 3 on the list. Rohit Sharma and George Bailey set those records in a series where both teams piled up runs on flat Indian pitches, in a series that shattered many a combined scoring aggregate. But Kohli has gone past those in a series where he has made batting look easy whereas other mortals have struggled for most part.
And if there are any arguments over whether who’s the better batsman in the world right now in Tests between Steven Smith and Kohli, it might be fair to say that the Indian captain is, undoubtedly, the best all-format player in the world - right now and perhaps, ever. He became the fastest to score 17000 international runs in the course of his 35th ODI century on Friday.
As astonishing as these bilateral series records are, Kohli’s numbers truly become frighteningly good when you look at the rate at which he scores centuries in ODIs.
And with three centuries to his name in the series, he has another record to his name that he will likely have for himself the next time he comes to South Africa.
Here’s the thing: As good as the three centuries were in this series, what really stands out is how varied the three of them were.
The first one in Durban was perhaps the most typical Kohli century. Tricky run-chase. Get your eye in. Score the odd boundary here and there, run between the wickets like a mad man and never let the target out of sight.
The second one, his 160* at Newlands, was extraordinary because it came on a track where literally every other batsman struggled to get going, except for Shikhar Dhawan at the start of the innings, when the conditions where best to bat. He hardly hit boundaries on his way to the 100 (more than 60% of runs scored by running) but shifted gears once he hit the three-figure mark.
The third, his 129* at Centurion, was just a champagne innings to celebrate a phenomenal series. This was the equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo chipping a penalty through the middle after he has already taken his side to a win by scoring the winning goal. This was, without any offence, Kohli showboating - as he smashed a 96-ball 129 while chasing 204. Normally, if this wasn’t a dead rubber, Kohli would have taken India past the finish line with a calculated, ones-and-twos filled knock. But this was Kohli signing off from the series in style - scoring 88 out of those 129 runs in fours and sixes.
Three centuries, three different templates.
In the years to come, this series - a 5-1 win for India - will be remembered for many statistical anomalies. Two Indian wrist spinners accounting for 33 out of the 53 South African wickets to fall - unprecedented. An Indian (men’s) team winning three ODIs on the trot and going on win a bilateral series of any kind in South Africa - never happened before. These are, in the truest sense of the word, incredible.
But when we remember Kohli’s exploits from this six-match series, we will - in all likelihood - look back and say: well, that’s not really a surprise. He really was that good.
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