The 2013-14 winter on the subcontinent witnessed the fall of the final pin of India’s golden cricket generation when Sachin Tendulkar bade goodbye to the game in an emotional farewell. Batting stalwarts Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had hung their boots the previous year, following Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly into the inevitable. At that point, a grief surrounded Indian cricket fandom much akin to the passing away of a special someone and we were rest assured that life would never be the same again.

But in the background of this transition, there was a young gladiator who was quietly scripting his case for greatness that would fill the void in a manner no one expected, that too in almost the blink of an eye. By the end of 2013, a then 25-year-old Virat Kohli had already piled up 22 international hundreds. Four years later, he has gone on to become an actual living legend of the game, giving reason to many, like yours truly, to follow Indian cricket in a religious manner the child inside me once did.

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On Sunday, against a resolute New Zealand side in Kanpur, Virat Kohli became the fastest man in the 46-year-old history of ODI cricket to breach the 9,000-run mark with the 32nd hundred of his career. The 106-ball 113 from the skipper sums up his role in the team that he has made his own not too long after breaking onto the scene in 2008.

The number 3 position in India’s batting order had never been a real strength in the past couple of decades. We had Dinesh Mongia there for the 2003 World Cup and the likes of Robin Uthappa filled in for the 2007 iteration of the tournament when the rest of the world boasted the class of Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara. Gautam Gambhir was the first real candidate one-down in India’s successful campaign at the 2011 World Cup at home, when Virat batted at number 4. 

The former Under-19 Indian captain was then promoted and some memorable knocks later, he definitely commands a place among the legendary number 3s of the world like Sir Viv Richards, Ponting and Kumar Sangakkara. There have been two critical factors on this road to glory — consistency and unprecedented match-winning ability.

For starters, he averages 55.74 in ODI cricket, the most for any batsman who has played 100 or more matches. A total of 77 50-plus scores in 194 innings make you believe that he’s going to reach another landmark everytime he goes out to bat. Sachin Tendulkar did carry the weight of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders through more than two deacades, but Virat is doing it in style. 

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Former Australian opener Matty Hayden once said that Rahul Dravid’s eyes are what on-field aggression is about. Even Kohli has displayed that fire and grit (sometimes verbally, but mostly through his concentration out there in the middle). He’s determined in a manner that the Karnataka batsman would be proud of and swashbuckling enough to extract wows from the Virendra Sehwags of the world (with an ODI strike rate of almost 92). Just ask Lasith Malinga who he smashed for 24 runs in an over at Hobart. 

The same ability has been put on display time and again, especially in run chases. Virat Kohli thrives under pressure and never shies away from a challenge. That’s what makes his game even more attractive and his personality even more heroic

He has also relished the chance to lead the Indian side across formats and his stats since assuming the captaincy tell you a tale of an ultra-fit athlete who wants to lead by example. His fitness has set new standards and the hunger to become world-beaters now seems to translate in the attitude of his team on the field. 

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Not that he isn’t human though. The Delhi lad still has some way to go in Test cricket and his team’s No 1 ranking is untested on foreign soil. Critics still want to talk about his susceptibility outside the off stump in the beginning of every innings while the tiff with former coach Anil Kumble also came across as unnecessary.

But whatever he has done as a cricketer up till now is definitely enough to capture the fancy of cricket purists and enthusiasts who would not have thought so about the game by the end of 2013.

With players like Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson now established as the faces of international cricket, the current generation has filled in some pretty huge shoes. And with Virat Kohli at the helm of them all right now, I’m proud as an Indian fan and even more so to again support the team like I did in the Tendulkar era. Virat Kohli, you are a hero that we need, and deserve! 

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