There are three batters in ODI history who are in consideration for the GOAT.
Viv Richards dominated the 50-over format in the fledgling years when the game was essentially a condensed version of Test cricket.
ODIs were still played in white attire and scoring was sedate. Richards, however, was the standout as he played with typical aggression to flatten bowlers and foreshadow what was ahead. The West Indian averaged 47 and his legendary 189 not out against England in 1984 stood as the highest ODI score for a dozen years.
It was his strike-rate of 90 that really stood out in an era where 70 was deemed decent on surfaces that offered balance between bat and ball.
After Richards, Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar dominated the subsequent two decades during ODIs pomp. Before the breezier T20 cricket took over, ODIs were cricket’s cash cow and played endlessly. There were tournaments – tri-series were particularly popular – played all over the globe even in far-flung cricket destinations such as Amsterdam, Toronto and Morocco.
Batting at the top of the order, Tendulkar was indefatigable as he rewrote the record books. He played in the most ODIs (463), scored the most runs (18,426) and – until this week – had the most centuries (49).
Given ODI cricket’s dwindling popularity, with the format increasingly being played less and its future uncertain, those records appeared safe forever. Two of them almost certainly won’t be overtaken, but Tendulkar’s protégé Virat Kohli reached his 50th century in the semi-final against New Zealand.
Fittingly, Tendulkar was in the terraces amid bedlam as Kohli achieved a record that probably won’t be overhauled. It’s almost impossible to compare eras and entirely unfair given the modern advantages of batters in a format where bowlers are mostly treated with disdain.
Rule changes have tilted the format heavily towards batters alongside technology advancements with bats, while batters have expanded their range of shots due to the rise of T20 cricket.
But Kohli probably now shades Tendulkar and Richards. He needed almost 200 innings less than Tendulkar to reach 50 centuries and his average of 58.69 is far superior to his idol’s of 44.83. Kohli also nudges Tendulkar and Richards in strike-rates, which perhaps isn’t surprising, but he is also above modern day greats Rohit Sharma and Babar Azam.
What sets Kohli apart from anyone else who has played the format is his ability to chase down totals so effortlessly and calmly. He’s not a power-hitter like many of the brutes dotting the white-ball formats these days, but he can accelerate accordingly.
Kohli has learned wisely from his former captain MS Dhoni, another master of the chase, and taken it to another level given his greater responsibility batting at number three.
His pinpoint placement, like a billiards expert, is unparalleled as he finds gaps in the field that almost defy logic and causes headaches for opposition captains. It’s his strong willpower that takes him to heights never before seen. You see it in his face, where he just can’t hide his emotions.
Kohli outworked everyone. He changed his diet, raised the bar with his fitness and ensured his game was rock solid.
India has flashier young batters these days, who are more extravagant and can hit harder, and Kohli recognises this. He doesn’t try to outdo them but rather Kohli’s become the anchor as they bat freely around him knowing he’s the stabilizing figure.
At 35, Kohli is still scoring the most runs – he leads the charts at the World Cup. He even runs faster than anyone else between the wickets. He’s obviously not slowing down. The only thing stopping him from blowing his newly minted record out of the water is the inevitable demise of ODI cricket.
All that had been missing was a crowning moment at the World Cup having won a title in 2011 as a young player before struggling in the knockouts in the subsequent two editions.
But Kohli has been on a mission and absolutely dominated this tournament, playing with a singlemindedness that almost makes him chalking up a century feel like an inevitability when he briskly walks out to the crease.
A World Cup title, burnishing his legend amongst his adoring compatriots, surely will cement Virat Kohli’s status as the greatest ever ODI batter.