The chants of 'Kohli! Kohli!' reverberated the Old Trafford in Manchester when India took on arch-rivals Pakistan and defeated them by 89 runs via Duckworth-Lewis Method (DLS). While the cheers for Captain Virat Kohli echoed the stadium, the day belonged to India's vice captain Rohit Sharma.
His mesmerising knock against Pakistan led to fans cheering ‘Rohit, Rohit, Rohit’. However, they seemed less well-practised, a little more out-of-sync than the choruses glorifying the captain, or even ex-skipper MS Dhoni, which are second-nature.
Kohli has undoubtedly earned that passion by cementing himself as the world’s premier batsman across all three formats – the only man in history to average more than 50 in Tests, ODIs and T20Is.
Even during the Sharma show, as the opener crushed 140 runs off 113 balls against India’s greatest rivals, Kohli added to his legend. The skipper’s supporting knock of 77 saw him pass 11,000 ODI runs in a ludicrous 54 fewer innings than the second-quickest man to that milestone, Sachin Tendulkar.
Kohli has every shot in the book and invariably plays them more classically and artistically than the book could ever wish to teach.
While watching Kohli bat is to revel in a perfectly-structured piece of art, witness a machine so finely-tuned that seemingly nothing can go wrong, with Sharma at the crease, the fans are in for a more visceral, exhilarating experience.
The way he effortlessly climbs on to his toes, leans into a short, wide ball from Hasan Ali and cuts it for six. The way he seemingly defies the laws of time to create an extra half-second to step back, swivel and pull Hasan for another maximum. The way he reads the ball out of the hand, waits for the turn and languidly drives Shadab Khan to the point boundary.
The magnificent century by the 32-year-old has made him join the club of Tendulkar, Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli (twice) as the only men who have scored 50+ in five consecutive ODI innings for India.
His 140 was also the highest score by anyone in an ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan, while the 136 he put on with KL Rahul is the biggest opening partnership in a World Cup match between the sides.
Ditching his method of starting conservatively, he raised the tempo against Pakistan right from the word go. This could have been a desire to provide a safety net if the game was reduced in length due to the ever-present threat of rain or because he felt more responsibility with the largely untested Rahul opening alongside him in the absence of the injured Shikhar Dhawan.
Either way, the strategy was a roaring success and led to an 85-ball ton by the end of the 30th over – the earliest point he has reached the milestone in an ODI.
Kohli’s contribution (77 off 65) to the eventual total of 336/5 was also vital and perhaps fittingly he saved his best shot – a glorious punch for four between cover and mid-off – for the first ball he faced after Sharma brought up his century, just in time to turn the crowd’s chants once more…
‘Kohli! Kohli! Kohli! Kohli!’
Given Kohli’s brilliance over the past decade, it’s easy to forget that before his now-captain, Sharma was the golden boy of Indian cricket – the natural successor to Sourav Ganguly, Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag that set pulses racing. He had 23 ODIs under his belt by the time Kohli debuted in August 2008 but his struggles to completely impose himself in Test cricket and occasional dips in form mean he has taken more of a winding path to greatness than the skipper.
He is also unfortunate to have the moniker ‘World Cup winner’ absent from his CV after being dropped a month before India’s victorious 2011 campaign, yet regaining his place for the first game after its conclusion. However, now playing the most consistently-brilliant cricket of his life in a team full of world-class stars, Sharma might just earn that missing medal at Lord’s come mid-July.