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Match Analysis

Crazy, stupid, love: a Tendulkar fan's complicated relationship with Kohli

The comparisons will continue till the end of time, but for now, this is just a moment to plunge into, emotions and all

It's the afternoon of October 8, and the crowd noise, filtered through the press-box glass at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, is a low hum as David Warner and Steven Smith put on a cagey half-century stand. Then it turns, for no immediately discernible reason, into a roar, a constant roar that defies the slow burn of the action in the middle. Then you spot that Virat Kohli has moved to long-off, right in front of the stand beyond the press-box glass.
This sparks a conversation, between you and the cricket journalist next to you. You were both born in the mid-to-late 80s, and grew up watching cricket in the 90s and early 2000s. You both belong, in short, to the Sachin Tendulkar generation, a generation that enjoyed an absurdly extended childhood simply by virtue of Tendulkar's longevity. You try and compare what you're seeing now to what you remember from Tendulkar's time. Has Kohli worship reached the level of Tendulkar worship?
No, you argue at first. It cannot have. How could it? But you concede, against your will, that you can't even pretend to be able to judge this objectively. You've watched Kohli hundreds of times, often at heaving stadiums like this one, but you've watched him with the cynical eye of a journalist, never once feeling in the pit of your stomach the dread you so often felt when you watched Tendulkar bat, standing with your face pressed to the TV because you couldn't bear to sit. You felt the crowd's adulation then because you were part of it even when you were not; now you're right there with them, separated only by a sheet of glass, but that's enough to cut you off entirely.


November 12. More than a month has passed and you're at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. You've spent an hour in the P Terrace stand, in though not entirely of the crowd as it rode the Kohli wave, its noise building slowly at first and surging as he stepped out to whip successive balls from Logan van Beek over and past mid-on to go from 20 to 30.
You head inside, to the dining area behind the press box, when he brings up his fifty. You need a chai and a think. The 50th ODI century is imminent, perhaps even inevitable. The tribute piece will have to be written. What do you write that's new and fresh about someone you and everyone else in this press box have written about thousands of times?
It turns out you don't have to. Not today. He makes room for an off-side slap and is bowled by a skidder from Roelof van der Merwe. You watch this on a TV in the dining area, and around you are five or six other journalists. You exchange handshakes and high-fives with all of them. No tribute piece today, boss.
This is the dirty, compromised relationship you share with Kohli.


November 15. You're at the Wankhede Stadium, and India's batters are all over New Zealand in this World Cup's first semi-final. You've watched Rohit Sharma charge out to launch Trent Boult over extra-cover and swivel to hook him over long leg. You've watched an exhibition of Shubman Gill pulls: short-arm and arms fully extended, behind square and in front, along the ground and over the ropes. You'll soon watch Shreyas Iyer send a wide away-spinner from Rachin Ravindra whistling unexpectedly over long-on with a tennis forehand, and KL Rahul manufacture a whirling slice off Boult between backward point and short third. Suryakumar Yadav won't score too many runs today, but he's also on your mind when you make this statement to the journalist next to you:
"Kohli surely has to be the least watchable batter in this top six."
This is all subjective, of course, and all relative. Kohli's presence would significantly lift the aesthetic appeal of most other top sixes at this World Cup. And even if you think he's only the sixth-most-attractive batter in this line-up, you still find yourself going "ooh" when he drills a wristy drive for a double between extra-cover and long-off.
But it's doubles - so many of them, in so many directions, most often either side of a deep backward square leg whose life at this moment must be pure torture - that you always seem to ooh and aah when Kohli's batting, and not the fours and sixes. Nimble footwork, expert bat-face manipulation, astute judgment of the fielder's distance from the ball and the time it would take that particular fielder to cover it: you appreciate these things because you think it makes you a refined cricket watcher.
And all that running and turning and running again, all this on a muggy Mumbai afternoon during which the substitutes bring Kohli a plastic chair to spend his drinks breaks on. It's to be marveled at, all this endless Kohli running, but you joke in the press box that all of it has forced poor Gill to retire hurt.
There's a growing realisation, however, that today might be the day for that tribute piece, the tribute piece you were so pleased not to have to write three days ago. Kohli steps out to Boult and plonks him over mid-off. He steps out to Tim Southee and whips him over wide long-on, and you almost feel the force of this hit pulsing through your bottom wrist. Then Boult goes short and Kohli opens his bat face to guide him past a diving short third.
A murmur goes around the press box. It's happening, guys.
To your right is the Sachin Tendulkar Stand, and to its right is the Sachin Tendulkar statue, unveiled two weeks ago. At 2 o'clock to the statue, roughly, is a box in which sits the man himself.
Forty-nine ODI hundreds in 463 innings versus 49 in 290, soon to become 50 in 291. Run inflation has contributed significantly to this disparity - 300 would be an utterly inadequate total today, a line you very rarely heard in Tendulkar's time - and there's a convincing argument - made here by Kartikeya Date - that Tendulkar at his peak was both significantly more consistent and significantly more explosive than his average contemporary than Kohli has been, or has needed to be, in his time.
But this isn't a time for comparisons. The moment you're about to witness is one to plunge into, emotions and all.
The first Kohli hundred you covered, also against New Zealand, comes rushing back to you: 2010, Guwahati. It was your first ODI, and his fourth hundred. You remember almost nothing about his innings, but you remember the shots M Vijay played while scoring 29 off 32 balls. Vijay, enjoying a rare ODI audition, hit a four every 6.4 balls, while Kohli hit one every 10.5 balls. Kohli ended up with a significantly bigger score at a better strike rate. It was an early sign of what to expect over the coming decade and more.
The sun is setting behind the Tendulkar statue when the moment arrives. It arrives, inevitably, with a double. A wristy double into the gap between fine leg and deep square leg. This is an ODI career of many interlocking bits, but it is, at its core, an ODI career of wristy doubles between fine leg and deep square leg.
Kohli's second run takes him past the stumps at the Garware End. This is, coincidentally and providentially, the end at which Tendulkar is seated. In the same stand is David Beckham, a footballer defined by a right foot as magical as Kohli's right wrist and an engine as tireless. Kohli bows in the direction of that stand, and blows a kiss to another of its occupants, Anushka Sharma. Interviewed after India's innings, he describes her influence on his life in touchingly simple terms. "My life partner, the person I love the most."
The crowd pays its tribute, and for once you don't pause to wonder about other tributes paid by other crowds to another champion. He's watching this, and he seems to be enjoying every bit of it. You should too.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo