After Sachin, India don’t need another trail-blazer, they need a cricketer; someone who can build on the foundations that Tendulkar himself laid, not feel the need to tear them up and recreate Indian cricket in their own image. The ‘Little Master’ built modern India, and now a successor must be found to continue his good work. That successor is Virat Kohli.
From Lara to Ponting, Gilchrist to Warne, Dravid to Marshall and Ambrose to Akram, no individual’s retirement from Test cricket in the modern era has rivalled that of Sachin Tendulkar’s. Weeks on from the Mumbai Test that captured the attention of the sporting world, the general sentiment of India’s ever-vocal and highly-informed fan base conveys a reluctance the let go of the man who inspired a nation.
As many have noted since his retirement was announced, the greatest testament to Tendulkar’s wasn’t his cricketing ability. Whilst his undeniable talents were, and will continue to be treasured by sporting fans worldwide, his role within India as an icon and social inspiration verged on the transcendent and most definitely renders him worthy of the iconic status he commands.
Never in the history of cricket has an individual been so worshipped, their successes greeted with such rapture and their failures with disappointment, not in the player themselves, but in the fact that the spectacle was no more. Tendulkar was bigger than cricket, a fact those of future generations, especially those from outside of India may never understand having not experienced at least a selection of his many landmark innings. A destructive 114 against Australia on a violent WACA pitch in 1992, his impeccable 241* some 12 years later at the SCG and, of course, the reception in Mumbai for every one of his final 74 Test runs.
In paying homage to Tendulkar though, it is important to remember that Test cricket has witnessed many great batsmen, several of whom are validly held to be the best of their respective times. Though selecting ‘All-Time XIs’ is a pastime every self-respecting cricket fan has indulged in, eras are effectively incomparable. W. G. Grace’s average of 32.29 in no way credits him for essentially inventing the modern batting technique, Bradman’s average 99.94 is unparalleled not just in cricket, but in every mainstream professional sport and Viv Richards delighting fans like no other surely renders him amongst the best when you consider sport as just another form of entertainment.
On the One-Day stage, Tendulkar’s achievements were arguably more impressive. In 200 Tests, Tendulkar only secured 14 Man of the Match awards, 9th all time, whilst in ODIs, Sachin’s 463 matches yielded 62 performances worthy of such recognition, some 14 ahead of Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya and 30 ahead of the 3rd placed Jacques Kallis. On becoming their first player to score an ODI double-century, Sachin remarked, “I don’t think any record is unbreakable. I hope that if this record is broken, it’s done by an Indian.” Since making this seemingly impossible milestone a legitimate aspiration for every great limited overs player, this double-century feat has been replicated by two others, both Indian, however we regard neither of them are heir to his position atop the juggernaut that is Indian cricket.
Tendulkar’s statistical achievements are phenomenal, yet they are only his third greatest achievement with his ability to maintain statistical prowess for some 24 years trumping the pure numbers. His most incredible achievement however, is his legacy.During the social discourse and economic turmoil that plagued India in the early 1990s, a young batsman touted as the greatest to ever play the game emerged. Through his, a nation lived vicariously, experiencing the highs that professional sport has to provide and providing an escape from reality. It does Tendulkar an injustice to acknowledge him as the catalyst for Indian cricket’ current heights. He was the greatest national icon professional sport has ever seem. Sachin will not be replaced.
And nor should he be.
India are no longer in need of a saviour of Tendulkar’s ilk, in fact for them to be gifted another character of his temperament, aura and talent combined would be an injustice to other nations searching for once in a generation players themselves. India are in need of a cricketer, a mere mortal capable of compiling runs, endearing themselves to a nation of cricket-mad fans and building upon the incredibly sturdy foundations laid by Sachin himself.
Virat Kohli is such a human. He is abrasive at the crease an exudes an arrogance entirely absent from Tendulkar’s demeanour. His composure is sporadically deficient, he is prone to being dismissed playing frustratingly mediocre strokes and his rebellious antics have landed him in hot water more than once. Nevertheless, no player within India’s current cricketing structure can claim to possess more talent, a greater hunger for success or the potential to improve as significantly as Kohli.
His resume speaks for itself. Almost 7000 runs in international cricket at just the tender age of 25, twenty-one international centuries, an ODI average of 52.61 (the sixth highest of all time) and a Test average of 49.19 over the past two years. Aside from M.S. Dhoni, no current Indian player boasts both the persistent desire to play a positive, destructive innings and the technique to successfully pursue their ambition. The reason we identify Kohli ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, the other prodigies of Indian cricket’s ‘next generation’ is that despite his current success, Virat remains a much better player than his statistics suggest.
An ability to not only negotiate short-pitched bowling, but attack it, immediately renders him a threat on the pace-conducive wickets of South Africa and Australia. The greatest criticism of Sourav Ganguly was that he was deficient in this facet of the game, a perspective confirmed by his Test averages of 34.80 and 36.14 in Australia and South Africa respectively. Kohli’s competence in this area mirrors that of Tendulkar, whose 114 at the WACA Ground against five Australian fast bowlers ranks amongst the greatest innings by a tourist ‘Down Under’.
At the same stage in his career, Tendulkar averaged just 37.41, reaching the modern-day benchmark of 50 for the first time by the conclusion of his 29th Test match. From there, Tendulkar only dipped below that mark for a period of 5 months in 1996/1997; his average fell as low as a still bafflingly impressive 49.26. It is this consistency that Kohli will struggle to attain given his aggressive disposition, however sporadic failure, an occasional victory of ball over bat and the potential for a landmark innings in which a player battles through adversity is what endears cricketers to historians of the game. He will expose himself to criticism more readily than Tendulkar, however at the same time, has the potential to channel an aggression the ‘Little Master’ never expressed and take Indian cricket to heights Tendulkar never managed.
Just as Sachin personified the emergence of modern India and the ever-increasing prominence of cricket within the country, Kohli carries the banner for the new era. Conservatism no longer has a place in India’s cricketing lexicon and a draw is now regarded an unacceptable result in the extended format of the game. An attitude of arrogance not forthcoming in previous generations has become intertwined with a team that now regards defeat as foreign, and whilst Australia and England channel their intensity on the field through verbal altercations, India’s current crop of players are happy to let their actions speak louder than their words. The sense of entitlement shown in the side’s recent ODI victory over Australia in Jaipur in which Kohli scored an unbeaten century from 52 delivers, the fastest by an Indian, demonstrates an intangible quality that may impart a greater team success rate within this era of emerging batsmen than what was the case with their arguably more timeless predecessors in Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag and Ganguly.
It is a streak that Border’s Ashes squad of 1989 took to England before winning back the much-coveted urn, the same aggression that Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff exhibited in 2005 when the Ashes were won back by England; the same grunt shown by Dale Steyn throughout his incredible career and the same passion that appeared to have inspired Australia to victory at the ‘Gabba so far in the 2013/2014 Ashes series.
Fans of Indian cricket will hope that this nasty streak is the extent of the distinction between master and apprentice, because should Virat Kohli mimic the achievements of his predecessor, India would have found themselves another great of the modern era. Whilst calls for deification and the transcendent status reserved for the likes of Bradman, Tendulkar and Warne may never be bestowed upon him, expectations of others and controversy that will be part and parcel with Kohli don’t seem mutually exclusive to a prolific career. It is no longer the case that India’s greatest cricketer must worry about the wellbeing of their nation. India is a strong, vibrant country with an even more impressive culture. For now, all Virat need concern himself with is cricket; a luxury Sachin was never really afforded.
Kohli is no Tendulkar, but then again, India don’t need another Tendulkar right now. They need a figure to build upon the sizeable foundations he has provided, not stand in his un-fillable shoes. The aggression that the likes of Kohli bring to what is now a cricketing superpower is an immeasurable intangible that this current generation will contribute to the growing legacy of Indian cricket.
In his prolific career, Sachin Tendulkar won 72 of his 200 Test matches (36%) and 234 of his 463 ODIs (51%). Kohli by comparison has won 10 of his 20 Tests (50%) and 76 of his 122 ODIs (62%). His career promises to be something incredibly special and in many ways, potentially more successful.