Tendulkar inspired a whole generation of cricketers, including Kohli, through his mindboggling exploits across formats.
Sunil Gavaskar made us fall in love with the ‘ten thousand’. On March 7, 1987, he became the first man to climb the cricketing Everest, nudging an Ejaz Fakih delivery down to third man at the dusty Motera. The great man set the benchmark of greatness in Test cricket.
Gavaskar represented an era, when Test cricket was paramount and everything else—one-day cricket to be precise—had been incidental. In 1987, it was unthinkable that any batsman would scale the 10k peak in the 50-over format.
But the game started to change since the 1990s and, in 2001, another little, big man from Mumbai made the unthinkable happen, scaling the once-insurmountable peak in ODI cricket. Once the fortress was breached, others made inroads. On October 24, Virat Kohli became the latest entrant to the elite club when he drove Ashley Nurse to long-off for a single at Vizag. Kohli’s speed made the achievement even more special—he was the fastest to
Thirty-one years ago, when Gavaskar became cricket’s ‘Tenzing’, life used to be less complicated. Google didn’t exist and the American jargons were yet to infiltrate the Indian vocabulary. Back in the 1980s, Hollywood used to be a common Indian’s tenuous link to the United States. Kohli plays the game at a time when an American WWE star, Triple H, tweets on cricket and celebrates Mumbai India’s IPL triumph on social media. The world has become a global village and everything now happens at a supersonic speed. From that perspective, Kohli reaching the 10k mark in the ODIs in just 205 innings had been somewhat expected. The India captain is modern cricket’s biggest box office. Given his consistency and appetite for runs, the dash had to be spectacular.
Between January 1 and October 24 this year, Kohli has featured in 11 ODIs, scoring 1,046 runs at an average of 149.42, including five centuries. Nine of those 11 matches had been played overseas—six in South Africa and three in England. Such consistency would have made even Sir Donald Bradman proud. Little wonder then that Kohli’s feat sent social media into a virtual meltdown. The Kohli versus Tendulkar comparison readily became a hot topic for debate, which was the bad part.
The golden rule in any sport is that you don’t compare the greats. Tendulkar and Kohli belong to two different generations and a comparison between the two great servants of Indian cricket is disrespectful to both. Yes, Tendulkar required 54 more innings to reach the 10k ODI landmark. His average and strike rate to the 10k summit, too, had been inferior to Kohli—42.63 and 86.52, respectively, against Kohli’s 59.62 and 92.51. But Tendulkar was a lot more than a cricketer with great numbers. As a 16-year-old, he blew Abdul Qadir to smithereens during his debut ODI series in Pakistan after saving a Test at Sialkot despite being hit on the nose by a Waqar Younis bouncer.
As Indian cricket began its journey to modernity in the 1990s, Tendulkar became its pin-up. His rise coincided with the Indian cricket board’s march towards achieving the superpower status. His genius helped Indian cricket emerge as a winner both on and off the field.
Tendulkar inspired a whole generation of cricketers, including Kohli, through his mindboggling exploits across formats. He always kept a steady head and remained humble. Rewind to the 2003-04 tour of Australia when he wasn’t having a great series. He bounced back with a masterful 241 in the final Test at Sydney, showing a monk-like discipline. His aversion to cover drives during the essay became part of Indian cricket folklore. Not many people, though, knew that the master batsman had spent sleepless nights in the lead-up to the game, sometimes doing shadow practice at 3 am in his hotel room to eradicate the flaws that he felt had crept into his back-lift and bat swing.
Kohli’s humility after reaching the 10k milestone struck a chord. “I feel very grateful and blessed. I never imagined I would get to this stage one day in one-day internationals career, but it has happened and I am very, very thankful to God and I am very grateful right now,” he told Bcci.tv, adding: “These things do not matter much, but to understand that you have come this far in your career, playing for 10 years, is something very special to me because I love this sport so much and you want to play it more and more. That, for me, is the most important thing and I am just happy that I have been able to play this long and, hopefully, for many more years to come.”
We should revel in similarities rather than pitting the two greats against each other. White-ball cricket has changed drastically since the inception of the IPL. Some novelties that T20s offered trickled down to the 50-over format, helping the longer-form pick up the pace. Kohli is closest to limited-overs batting perfection in contemporary cricket like Tendulkar was the best of his era.