How Virat Kohli is facing a similar dilemma as Sachin Tendulkar did in the ’90s

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Harsha Bhogle recently hosted a chat show featuring former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly and the duo talked about a wide range of interesting topics during an hour long session, while sitting in one of the stands of the iconic Lord’s in England. Eventually the conversation moved to whether Virat Kohli is facing a similar dilemma as Sachin Tendulkar faced back in his time.

Tendulkar was a master batsman who scored plenty of runs all over the globe, against the world’s best bowling attacks and often made them bow down to his sheer ability with the bat. The ‘Master Blaster’ faced the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar and Muttiah Muralitharan during their respective peaks, mind due in an era where the batting beauties prevalent today were an absolute rarity.

Whilst being supremely gifted, Tendulkar also put in the hard yards in the nets and emerged as ‘once-in-a-generation’ batsman who was miles ahead of his teammates in terms of ability and impact. During the ’90s, arguably Tendulkar’s peak with the willow, he continued to set new benchmarks for batting while his teammates often struggled against quality attacks and left him in the lurch.

Alongside Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sanjay Manjrekar and Navjot Sidhu formed the core of Indian batting lineup during the majority of ’90s but failed to even come close to what the famous Mumbai prodigy was doing with the bat. As a result, there was only one man standing up to opposition bowlers in alien foreign conditions and Indian batting often crumbled like a pack of cards on overseas tours.

It was only when the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag arrived on the scene when Tendulkar finally found able allies and Indian cricket took a positive course of direction and the team started doing well in England, Australia, et al.

The table shows Tendulkar’s numbers as compared to his then contemporaries, clearly illustrating the gulf in class. Rahul Dravid, who made his international debut in the year 1996, scored more runs than Sidhu and Manjrekar during the period between 1990 and 1999.

Player Span Matches Runs Average 100s
Sachin Tendulkar 1990-99 69 5626 58.00 22
Mohammad Azharuddin 1990-99 64 3880 44.09 14
Navjot Sidhu 1990-99 38 2517 44.94 7
Sanjay Manjrekar 1990-96 28 1259 29.97 1

(Source: ESPNCricinfo)

Current Indian skipper and talisman Virat Kohli is enduring a similar challenge in the present setup. While the Delhi batsman has long been touted as a limited-overs master, Kohli has also taken his red-ball game to the next level in last couple of years and also occupies the top spot in ICC Test batting rankings.

Tendulkar was compared to Brian Lara in his time. Kohli has Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root as worthy challengers. What he doesn’t have, like Tendulkar, is an able support cast who can bat around him and make India formidable travellers.

Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have contributed handy runs, but only in patches. It has to be admitted that none of the aforesaid players inspire confidence like Kohli does while he is out in the middle and holding fort for his side.

Virat Kohli’s record compared to his contemporaries since 2010

Player Span Matches Runs Average 100s
Virat Kohli 2011-18 69 5994 54.49 23
Cheteshwar Pujara 2010-18 60 4635 49.30 14
Murali Vijay 2010-18 57 3772 38.88 12
Ajinkya Rahane 2013-18 48 3051 41.79 9
Shikhar Dhawan 2013-18 32 2271 42.84 7

(Source: ESPNCricinfo)

After a dream home season in 2016/17, Kohli has never let the intensity dip and has carried on with his dominating ways. In South Africa, he scored 286 runs in 3 Tests and emerged as the highest run-getter in the series. In fact, the next best Indian batsman was Hardik Pandya who managed a tally of 119 runs.

List of Top 5 run-getters – India’s tour of South Africa 2017/18

Player Matches Runs Average 100s
Virat Kohli 3 286 47.66 1
AB de Villiers 3 211 35.16 0
Dean Elgar 3 207 41.40 0
Hashim Amla 3 203 33.83 0
Faf du Plessis 3 183 30.50 0

(Source: ESPNCricinfo)

The trend has continued in the ongoing five-match series against England where captain Kohli has registered two wonderful hundreds to go with a 51 and 97 in six innings so far. He has been playing at a level which is head and shoulders above any other batter on show in the series, from either side.

List of Top 5 run-getters (First 3 Tests) – India’s tour of England 2018

Player Matches Runs Average 100s
Virat Kohli 3 440 71.33 2
Jonny Bairstow 3 206 41.20 0
Jos Buttler 3 170 34.00 1
Hardik Pandya 3 160 32.00 0
Ajinkya Rahane 3 158 26.33 0

(Source: ESPNCricinfo)

True, vice-captain Rahane contributed vital runs in wins at Johannesburg and Nottingham. Pujara played a fine hand in the second innings at Trent Bridge. Set aside this England tour and Vijay has been one of the better Indian batsmen on show in conditions like England, South Africa and Australia. But it is only Kohli who has truly struck fear in bowlers’ minds.

What works in Kohli’s favour though is that unlike Tendulkar, he is a born leader and despite his limitations as an on-field captain, certainly has the ability to mould the current team into a champion side. His single-minded focus on fitness and winning is slowly but surely catching up with the Indian side and they will do well do follow their captain.

Also, the presence of a solid core group of fast bowlers in Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah has helped Kohli in a big way. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will ensure that India will never be light on their traditional strength which is spin bowling. Tendulkar never had this luxury in the ’90s when Anil Kumble was the only real match-winner, with Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad plying their trade as quintessential workhorses.

Tendulkar, in a way, was lucky to witness the advent of the above-mentioned batting stalwarts after the turn of century. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh also emerged in a big way to supplement Kumble in the bowling department. Kohli has the resources at his disposal. Whether he can inspire them to up their game and become a deadly collective remains to be seen.

WATCH:┬áSachin Tendulkar’s First EVER hundred At 17 Years Old | England v India 1990 – Highlights

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