Kohli continues piling on freakish numbers
To have talent is one thing. To have the ability to harness that talent is another. The combination is rare. But to have both, and convert the latter into an almost precise process, while still keeping the art of the former intact is surreal. Virat Kohli has mastered the art of one-day batting to the extent that the same template keeps playing on loop and hundreds are churned out wherever he goes.
He now has 18 of them in 119 innings. Only eight men are ahead of him on the all-time list. The fewest innings any of those eight played was 240 by Herschelle Gibbs, for 21 centuries. Kohli has played less than half of those. These numbers have acquired such a commanding presence of their own, that it is easy to forget another crucial figure, which takes these numbers close to ridiculous levels, if they already aren't there by themselves. Kohli is only 25.
At such a young age, Kohli has ODI centuries in all the nine countries he's played in, barring South Africa. The latest century, his first in New Zealand, came in his first innings in the country.
With barely any warm-up games, India batsmen usually take a couple of international matches to get used to the conditions on tours. They often try to go for their shots - their bowlers do not leave them any choice - only to perish. Four of their top six batsmen fell to the pull or the hook in Napier tonight.
But out came this young man, with a stride to the middle that has now started to reach the supreme confidence of a swagger. Having seen the first batsman mishit a pull straight to fine leg, he pulled his sixth delivery with so much assurance and power, in front of square, that the opposition's strike fast bowler was visibly stunned.
A 21-year old tearaway charged in and hurled it at 153 kph. That is extreme pace. That is supposed to make you flinch. If not flinch, you are at least supposed to appear uncertain, or nervous. Kohli moved forward with so much calm he could have been knocking it in the nets. A solid defensive push, and the ball sped to the straight boundary. INS Virat had laid anchor firmly at Napier and wasn't departing before another of those emotional celebrations.
"He is a free flowing batsman, backs himself to play big shots," MS Dhoni said. "At the same time, he knows what works for him. Picks and chooses his shots. If he gets a good start then he makes sure that he converts it, makes sure that he gets to fifty and then a big score. He crosses 100 more often than not which I think is very important, especially in this new rule, it is very important that one batsman bats throughout and the rest revolve around him. He has done that really well so far. Hopefully he will carry it as well."
Pick any aspect of Kohli's batting. The leave, the defence, the cut, the swat-flick, the whiplash drive, the steer. The accumulation of the singles, the placement of the much-needed boundary, the sudden acceleration in a batting Powerplay. If it is needed at the moment, he does it, and what he does is exactly what is needed at that moment.
And he does it with such intense precision it seems inevitable that whatever he does is bound to happen. And when it does, it is still so spectacular that you can only shake your head. Both at the thought that you were expecting it to happen, and that there, right in front of your eyes, it does. Over and over again. If a modern one-day batting machine were to be designed, they would have to take the knowhow from Kohli.
In a way, what Kohli has been managing to do over what is now a considerable period is a tightrope marathon. This was a boy who was dropped early, had issues with his lifestyle off the field, still has issues at times with his aggression on the field. But somehow, Kohli has let the fire within burn brighter and brighter and is yet to be even singed by it, let alone burnt. How much effort that must be taking out of him we can only imagine. Genius is by nature temperamental. Only the rarest of rare can temper it to become predictable. Just to drive home the sheer freakishness of it all, he is still only 25.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo