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'He is the one now': 2023 World Cup could be for Virat Kohli what 2011 was for Sachin Tendulkar

ByRohit Mundayur, Mumbai
Jun 27, 2023 07:22 PM IST

An image of Virat Kohli with spots of white in his beard holding the World Cup trophy could become one of the defining pictures of the decade.

Filling Sachin Tendulkar's shoes in the Indian team was seen as a rather impossible task back when the great man was still playing. While he was regarded by most in the cricketing fraternity as the greatest of a generation that included the likes of Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis, Tendulkar was also easily the biggest star in the star-studded Indian team. It meant that he carried an unfathomably heavy weight of expectations on his shoulders whenever he walked out to bat. He managed those with aplomb on most occasions, leading many to think that there's just no other way to do it than the one he adopted.

Kohli went on a run of form between 2014 and 2019 in which it looked like he will blast past many of the ridiculous records that Tendulkar holds(Getty Images)

And yet, a player from the very next generation of Indian batters ended up challenging many of the ridiculous records that Tendulkar set, particularly in ODI cricket, and he was as different from the former India captain as chili sauce is from honey. Virat Kohli, if you are wondering, is the spicier one in this context. Where Tendulkar was understated, Kohli was brash and loud. Tendulkar hardly ever got into confrontations with opposition players on the field while Kohli on many occasions sought it out and has admitted that it helps him focus. Kohli has also confessed that he is nowhere close to Tendulkar in terms of talent, which is probably a fair assessment. And yet, particularly between 2014 and 2019, Kohli went on the kind of run that made it look like he is going to blast past Tendulkar's numbers in ODIs and possibly Tests as well.

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An important juncture in both Kohli and Tendulkar's careers was the 2011 World Cup. India won the tournament, their second World Cup victory after they had clinched the title in 1983. Kohli was 23 at the time while Tendulkar was two years away from touching 40. Notably since then, Kohli has had to deal with disappointments in both international cricket and the Indian Premier League - Royal Challengers Bangalore, the side Kohli led till 2019, have never won the title. In the time that he was captain of the Indian team in all formats between 2016 and 2022, the side won only the 2018 Asia Cup. Kohli had sat out that tournament and it was Rohit Sharma who captained the team.

Now, Kohli heads into the 2023 World Cup aged 34 and on the comeback trail from a rather alarming slump in form between 2019 and the first half of 2022. Former India batter Virender Sehwag, who was the team's opener in the 2011 World Cup, has compared the current situation to what it was for Tendulkar going into that tournament, pointing out a rather surreal similarity.

"I still remember when Sachin Tendulkar was playing the 2011 World Cup, which turned out to be his last one. We had told him it would be his last World Cup, as we did in 2007 and even in 2003. He told me at the time that I will retire after you. And he actually ended up retiring after me. We played that World Cup for Tendulkar. We gave more than our 100 percent thinking that if we win this, it is a great exit for Sachin paaji," Sehwag said during the announcement of the schedule and list of venues for this year's World Cup.

"I think Virat is similar. He is in Tendulkar's shoes in the way he plays, talks, motivates others, the passion with which he plays. He is the one now and everybody is looking to win this World Cup for Virat Kohli. Whenever a series or tournament happens, he makes sure that the younger players are competing with him and he ends up beating everyone, just the way Sachin paji did. During the 2011 World Cup or the 2003 World Cup, he scored a lot more runs than younger players in the team like say Gautam Gambhir or Yuvraj Singh. I think Kohli will be looking forward to do something similar."

Tendulkar was closer to the end of his career in 2011 than Kohli is this year, and yet, there is a sense of finality for the latter going into the grand ODI spectacle that is the World Cup. He had won the trophy at home at the start of his career, suffered repeated disappointments in later editions of the tournament, and the T20 version of it. His longtime teammate Rohit Sharma may be captain now but the sight of Kohli with spots of grey in his beard with the World Cup trophy in his hands, as opposed to the one we have already seen in which he is a tyro with chubby cheeks and spiky hair, might end up being one of the most memorable images of this decade.

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