@swaris16 6 minute read
Hundreds by Virat Kohli are boring again. Sarah Waris writes about the magic that resides in the world when he is up and running.
Whisper it. Don’t let it be known. Virat Kohli is back doing what he does best, leaving fans swooning once more. But keep his return a secret, will you? The last few years have made us superstitious, and loud proclamations of his comeback can tempt the Cricketing Gods into teasing us again. That is something we cannot afford, for the sport thrives when, at the heart of it, Kohli is up and bouncing in joy with his irresistible machismo and superhuman skills.
To truly understand the aura of Kohli in India, we need to go back to 2013 when Sachin Tendulkar made the heartbreaking decision to walk away from the game. A country that elevated the mortal into a Godly status, started considering Tendulkarism as their new religion, and performed ceremonies with offerings to the genius before, after and during cricket matches was suddenly left without their deity.
Who would bail them out now? Who would answer their desperate pleas?
Tales of railway trains delaying their departure time when Tendulkar was batting during the 2003 World Cup were no myths. Reports of the TV numbers falling drastically when he was dismissed were not made up. Kohli’s quote on Tendulkar after the 2011 World Cup win about carrying the burden of the nation for decades was not exaggerated. Kids, with MRF bats in their hands, imagining themselves to be the next superstar for the Indian cricket team after they smoked the ball into the drain for a boundary on a sultry Sunday afternoon were not fabricated.
Fathers were suddenly reminded of their unfulfilled ambitions of becoming a cricketer. Holidays as a child became a family event as members gathered together to watch Tendulkar bat as we dug into crispy pakodas and Bournvita. From a mere sport, cricket transcended into a festival and leading the revolution was a Mumbaikar who first showed the country that an Indian could be consistently dominant against the very best.
Tendulkar’s rise coincided with the emergence of cable TV in India. While Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev had earlier conquered the world, it was for the first time a cricketer’s wizardry was being accessed and viewed by billions live. And, boy, was he good.
His retirement was not easy to take. For a generation that grew up with Tendulkar, the announcement marked the departure of the giver of unlimited joyous moments. He was a fatherly figure to most and the favourite child to others. He was just a cricketer on paper, but to billions, he was an embodiment of their dreams. His last walk at the Wankhede in November 2013 signalled the end of the tryst with cricket for half the population for their interest in the sport hinged on one player. The atmosphere was sombre and a sense of mourning prevailed. You had to live it to believe it.
What next, was the obvious question. Who next, in particular? The likes of Yuvraj Singh, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly had all dazzled but never quite managed to achieve the grip over the viewers as Tendulkar had. Murmurs of the brilliance of MS Dhoni and Kohli did the rounds but it was blasphemy to view them at the same level. Dhoni, arguably India’s finest captain, did not have the same impact with the bat in Test and T20Is as he did in ODIs, and Kohli was too young to be called the heir. Cricket would never be the same again, we kept telling ourselves, sadly but confidently.
It’s been exactly ten years. Tales of the pilot making mid-air announcements of Kohli’s score against Pakistan during the 2022 T20 World Cup is not a myth. Reports of the Hotstar viewing numbers fluctuating when he is batting versus when he isn’t are not made up. And, very ironically, the ICC Men’s Player of the Decade has carried the burden of the country in all three formats with such ease that we look back in hindsight and wonder why we were ever afraid in the first place all that time ten years ago.
Kohli took over the nation when it was determined to never form a bond with cricket again. Kohli forced the grieving to steal guilty glances at the scorecards. A sense of betrayal swept over, as promises of ending ties with cricket after Tendulkar’s era could not be upheld. They tried, we tried. But Kohli just sucked us all in, making him hard to ignore. You hated how he was outperforming your favourite cricketer, you vowed to never fall into his trap and stay loyal to your stars. You couldn’t imagine ever falling for him… But look at you now.
On Sunday, when he struck his third hundred in four ODIs, an otherwise normal routine for Kohli, we danced in joy before appreciating his genius a little more. The lull from 2020 till mid 2022, where he struggled for any sort of rhythm, left us jarred, and each passing game intensified the fear. Could he ever make a comeback as good? Did his prime end before we could truly recognise and appreciate his batsmanship? Did he leave us, just like Tendulkar had, without a worthy successor and with no one on the horizon? Was Kohli’s chapter in the Indian cricketing books ending with a whimper after it threatened to blaze through prior records? Was this how it was to end?
It doesn’t seem so. The relief on his face every time he takes off his helmet is all of us. No over-the-top celebrations, no extra energetic swearing at reaching a milestone. Just a silent nod, a happy smile and a realisation that the dark days are behind him. He is back because at one moment it felt like he had left, but hey, whisper it for you never know when you might jinx him again. And that’s a risk we really cannot take because who knew a player could creep up on us, become a deity, and make cricket enthralling again? He’s deja vu.