Virat Kohli: India's cricket icon with midas touch

Virat Kohli bowed out of T20 internationals with a match-winning 76 in the World Cup final against South Africa in Barbados (Chandan Khanna)
Virat Kohli bowed out of T20 internationals with a match-winning 76 in the World Cup final against South Africa in Barbados (Chandan Khanna)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Virat Kohli on Saturday once again stood up as India's man for a crisis as he led the team to a World Cup glory in his last T20 international.

The star batsman smashed 76 off 59 balls to pull India out of early trouble and steer them to 176-7 in a thrilling final against South Africa in Barbados.

Kohli's knock had all the makings of a classic and the 35-year-old veteran announced his retirement from India T20s after his team's seven-run win.

His player of the match performance in the title clash came after he averaged just 10.7 in the tournament up to the final.

Kohli, often compared to fellow cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar, bowed out in the shortest international format with 4,188 runs in 125 matches including one century and 38 half tons since his debut in 2010.

"This was an open secret," Kohli said on his T20 exit after the win. "It's time for the next generation to take over, some amazing players will take the team forward and keep the flag waving high."

Skipper Rohit Sharma praised his champion player, saying, "No-one was in doubt about the form of Virat, on top of his game for last 15 years. Come the occasion, big players stand up."

Called "King Kohli" for his prolific run-scoring, the star player has been India's batting backbone across three international formats for over a decade.

Kohli and India missed out on global titles after the 2013 Champions Trophy, but made a habit of performing in key matches including a match-winning unbeaten 82 against arch-rivals Pakistan in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Melbourne.

He carried Tendulkar on his shoulders after being part of the 2011 ODI World Cup win and last year went past the batting great's all-time century record with his 50th ton in last year's 50-over showpiece at home.

"Virat never played for records. They happened as he progressed," Kohli's biographer Vijay Lokapally told AFP.

"His batting skills and work ethic combined to create magic. Longevity leads to milestones and that is what Virat has inherited from stalwarts like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar."

- Selfies and more -

Kohli has invoked a similar emotional response from cricket-crazy Indian and global fans that was once enjoyed by Tendulkar.

His number 18 jersey has an overwhelming presence in all Indian grounds.

The number was selected because he made his ODI debut on August 18, 2008, and to honour his father, Prem, who passed away on December 18, 2006.

With more than 26,000 international runs and a total of 80 centuries across three formats, comparisons with Tendulkar are obvious but Lokapally disagrees.

"He dislikes this comparison. He has his identity. Sachin Tendulkar has his. Their styles differ," said Lokapally.

"Sachin has faced some ferocious bowlers. Virat has dominated too. Sachin is incomparable. If Virat is enjoying his cricket today it is because of the reputation Indian cricket acquired courtesy of Sachin Tendulkar."

Known to wear his heart on his sleeve, Kohli has never shied away from a battle on the field and despite his regular brush with controversies the star remains one of the most popular cricketers.

Fans invading the pitch to touch his feet and take selfies remain regular occurences at Indian venues.

He is also fabulously wealthy, leading India's list of highest-paid athletes with earnings of $33.9 million mainly from brand endorsements, according to analysts Sportico's 2022 list.

Kohli went through an extended lean patch that spread across two years since 2021, failing to reach three figures in over 1,000 days.

He quit as T20 skipper in late 2021 and was soon sacked from the ODI captaincy.

Kohli gave up leading the Test side too and later talked about his mental struggles during his dry phase, including how he had been "snappy" around wife Anushka Sharma.

Kohli then hit his first hundred after a gap of 1,020 days in the 2022 T20 World Cup and has not looked back.

Kohli still may have some unfinished business in the T20 game. As a star batter for Royal Challengers Bengaluru, he has yet to land an Indian Premier League title.