Having snatched victory for India from the jaws of defeat a myriad times, Virat Kohli is now on the cusp of immortality in the 50 overs format.
Indian fans are hoping for another epic knock from Kohli, the highest scorer in the 2023 ODI World Cup with 711 runs, today when India enter the field at the giant Narendra Modi Stadium for a tilt at World Cup glory.
Kohli was 23 when India won their second title at home in 2011.
He played his part in that victory with a match-turning partnership with Gautam Gambhir in the final against Sri Lanka.
But it was not until February 2012 that the cricket-loving world finally saw what Kohli was made of when he scored an astonishing hundred against Sri Lanka in a must-win tri-series match at Hobart.
Since then, no other batsmen have produced as many match-winning knocks in extreme-pressure situations as Kohli.
He produces moments of absolute magic when his team is on the ropes, earning comparisons with another man from another sport, Novak Djokovic, who keeps making unbelievable comebacks in lung-busting five-setters in Grand Slams.
So what makes athletes like Kohli perform miracles when the chips are down?
“Like all great players, he is mentally very strong,” said former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar.
“Virat takes great pride in his performance, he takes great pride in playing for India and winning matches for India.
“You have to be mentally very, very strong to perform in pressure situations. He has played so many big knocks while chasing.
“India have never lost a match when he has given a big performance. He is a player who can absorb all the pressure in a tight situation and win the match for India. That’s why the opposition teams fear him so much.”
Vengsarkar, who as the then chairman of the Indian selection committee had fast-tracked a young Kohli into the Indian senior team in 2008, was at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when he made his 50th one-day hundred on Wednesday, breaking the record he shared with his idol Sachin Tendulkar.
“When I picked him in the Indian team, he was only 18, and we backed him throughout. We backed so many players, and many of them went on to have successful careers in international cricket. But Kohli became a giant of the game,” Vengsarkar said.
“I think he has worked extremely hard on his game, he kept evolving all the time, he is so fit, see how he converts those singles into twos in every match now even though he is 35. He has always been very focused and disciplined.”
Veteran Indian sports writer Vijay Lokapally, who has authored several books, including Driven, The Virat Kohli Story, says Kohli’s ‘run-making is a result of his passion’.
“His commitment is total. Discipline is unmatched. When he is playing, he is not distracted at all. Just like Sachin Tendulkar. Yes, he also loves delivering when under pressure. He waits for pressure situations to take on the opposition,” he said.
“I think Virat is unique in his mental ability to tackle the challenge.
“He is an amazing athlete and awesome when it comes to dealing with difficult situations. The team draws inspiration from him during big matches.”
Nerves of steel
Dubai-based television producer Hiamdri Gautam was a rookie when he was asked to interview a young Delhi player who had just saved his team from defeat with a brilliant knock despite losing his father the previous night.
The year was 2006 and that young player was none other than Virat Kohli.
“As a young journalist in Delhi, this was my first story. I can’t really remember what he said because he was hardly able to say anything,” recalled Himadri.
“It was awkward for me to be asking questions about how he played after the tragedy in his family. I really didn’t know how to address the situation because it was one of those bitter-sweet moments, it was my first story but the situation was sad for him.”
But what struck Himadri that day was the mental strength of the youngster.
“It was clear how committed he was even at that young age. He came back to help his team (Delhi Ranji Trophy team) which was facing defeat, despite what he was going through,” he said.
“He came out and batted and saved his team. It was a massive thing to do for someone so young. He was so committed and very focused from a very young age.”
Kohli scored 90 that day to save Delhi from defeat against Karnataka.
He came out to bat that day because his father’s biggest dream was to see him play for India.
Two years later, Kohli made his international debut.
And the rest, as they say, is history.