Exactly 17 years, six months and 24 days after Sachin Tendulkar stole a single off Shane Warne to become the first batsman to scale the once-insurmountable 10k peak in ODI cricket, Virat Kohli crunched a single to long-on off part-timer Marlon Samuels to become the fastest to the landmark. As distant as the respective landmarks and milieu seem, Kohli, like his idol Tendulkar, has redefined the benchmark. Once Tendulkar became the first man to the feat — an achievement the Wisden Almanack report likened to the first man on the moon — the novelty was certain to dissipate, as with all things novel. In 17 years, between the first and the fastest, 12 others, including three Indian batsmen, stomped into the hallowed bracket. Almost all of their 10,000-moments were celebrated with a routine applause, or in MS Dhoni’s case with a mild smirk at the home of cricket in July.
Little doubt that it’s still considered the gold-standard of batsmanship, a badge of consistency, dominance and expertise, but there’s nothing earth-shattering about the figure, or worthy enough to be described as a man-on-the-moon moment. For both the metrics and syntax of the time have changed. We are living in hurried times, where everything in cricketing and outside worlds is measured in speed: From what age you can become a billionaire, to how fast you can run, to how quickly you can grow your beard. It seems only Catalan football and tennis clay courts have stood immune to acceleration. To infuse further perspective, when Tendulkar completed 10,000 ODI runs, only two others had scored more runs even in Test cricket, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. Courtney Walsh had just become the first bowler to 500 wickets. Wasim Akram was three years away from his 500th ODI stick. Heck, a five-digit salary was proudly advertised in matrimonial supplements. Now, there are 13 more entrants in the 10k Test runs bracket, one even in T20 cricket, and five more who have taken 500 wickets or more. Kohli, back then, was a zappy teenager in a West Delhi suburb, a year away from playing his first U-15 domestic game.
Thus, in a supersonic world, if you couldn’t be the first, you should be the fastest. Kohli, obviously, couldn’t be the first to 10k. But he chose to be the fastest, plonking his flag on the peak in 54 fewer innings than Tendulkar, at an average nearly 16 rungs higher, at five-runs quicker and with six more centuries than the metronome. The comparison could be skewed but illuminating nonetheless. Kohli inspired twitteratis to strike unusual imageries. Freddie Wilde, a cricket writer, tweeted; “To give you an idea of how much better Virat Kohli is than other great ODI players: him scoring 10,000 ODI runs in 205 innings—54 faster than the next best—is proportionately equivalent to breaking Usain Bolt’s 100m record by exactly 2.00 seconds (100m in 7.58 seconds).”
The metaphor could be ridiculed as hyperbolic or could instigate a torrent of debates for days or ages. But there’s no arguing that Kohli has redefined a benchmark. Hereafter, reaching the landmark will be less illuminating than reaching it at a better pace than Kohli’s. In that sense, he has dwarfed Tendulkar and is hurtling at a frenetic pace to elevate himself to the Bradman of ODIs tag. Maybe, he might not achieve his sparkling halo, but he mirrors him in his staggering consistency, ruthless invulnerability, mastery of bowlers and conditions, the inhuman quest for perfection and a machine-like pursual of runs. He’s not actually a machine, but if he were one, he would have made an exceptional one.
He’s the closest to being a miniature of batting perfection in contemporary cricket, one who has seamlessly blended style and science, orthodoxy and radicalism, and hid it under a mask of bearded machismo. His numbers are unearthly, more unearthly when he’s hunting a target—it shoots from 59.62 68.54. He can, with the ease of changing masks, devastate bowlers like Virender Sehwag, drain them like Rahul Dravid, dazzle them like Tendulkar or irritate them like Dhoni. And in conditions as diverse as Hobart and Harare, Cape Town and Cuttack, Napier and Nagpur. Against bowlers as diversely-skilled as Mitchell Starc and Lasith Malinga, Nathan Lyon and Sunil Narine. In circumstance as varied as chopping down 300-plus runs in 40 overs or lifting his side from 50 for 4.
It’s hard to process such repetitive brilliance, yet simple to explain the force underneath. An unfettered hunger for greatness.
Perhaps, the most enduring aspect about him is that he has made India forget Tendulkar, pushed him to an era distant and hazed, which was unthinkable till the Mumbaikar’s last day. The once-characteristic Tendulkar sights and sounds around the stadium are his–the pause-applause routine between a batsman’s exit and Kohli’s entry, the 18 on the back of their jerseys and the unrelenting chats that ring around the stadium. The veneration is as unconditional, the aura arguably brighter, and we are talking of someone whose career is unspent if any reached only a mid-point. Statisticians and cricket astrologists are prophesying loftier peaks—perhaps a feat as seemingly imperishable as a century of centuries or 200 Tests. Maybe, the first to 20,000 ODI runs, however preposterous as it might sound now.
Suffice it to say that there are few un-ticked boxes in his CV. Nonetheless, there still are a few boxes waiting to be ticked. For starters, he would want to win a World Cup on his own. Though he’s a World Cup winner, he’s yet to stamp himself, rather uncharacteristically, in high-pressure knockout games. Like the World Cup semifinal in 2015 or the Champions Trophy final in 2017. He couldn’t even inspire Royal Challengers Bangalore to an IPL silverware. Then, Kohli would say it’s the kick off the peaks yet to be scaled that intoxicates him more than what he already has.
Fastest to 10k-
Player Time Innings
Virat Kohli 10y 67d 205
S Tendulkar 11y 103d 259
S Ganguly 13y 204d 263
R Ponting 12y 37d 266
J Kallis 13y 14d 272