How do you describe greatness? How do you measure it? It's difficult to explain it in absolute terms but when you have a marker to compare one thing with the other or one person with the other, who is equally good or maybe more, then relatively it gets easier. Take Sachin Tendulkar, who broke and achieved probably every batting record there ever was to be achieved and he was labelled as probably the greatest of all time. Reason? Because of what he did, anyone else couldn't. Whether it was playing 200 Tests or over 400 ODIs or scoring 34,000 international runs or smashing 50 Test hundreds and 100 tons overall in international cricket... Tendulkar did what at one point was considered unthinkable.
Now what if someone else replicates it, or even goes ahead of what Tendulkar did? Yes, it has happened at Tendulkar's home ground where he played his last international match for India, in front of him, in a World Cup final and who else but Virat Kohli.
Kohli started his international career admiring Tendulkar and Sir Vivian Richards and probably wanted to emulate the solidity of the former and the flamboyance of the latter to become a complete batter. And the Kohli we know has probably acquired and mixed the best of both worlds and class of both.
Kohli on his best days is a busy player, he will get in the line of the ball, watch it till the last minute, get in the position and still have enough time to play whatever shot he wants to. He doesn't have a power like that of an MS Dhoni or a Chris Gayle but relies purely on timing and placement and has gotten success. Because to ace a format like ODIs, which is a mix of all three isn't easy to weather conditions, oppositions, situations and mental and physical fatigue over 14 years and still be the best at it among active players and still be calling the shots, it takes a genius to get to that point.
Kohli still comes clutch in pressure situations, is still the one on whom the team banks on and he continues to deliver with remarkable consistency and panache. Wednesday afternoon on a sultry Mumbai day was one such situation and Kohli without owning the period of play like Rohit Sharma did before him, slowly got under New Zealand's skin and then some more.
Rohit, then Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer played the alpha knocks and for once, Kohli played the second fiddle. Kohli let the innings and runs flow and didn't have to worry about the run rate or any other factor, which were all in control. It never looked like Kohli forced a shot or wanted to dominate because clarity of role helps. When others around him are batting at a strike rate of over 100, he can just knock around and New Zealand paid the price for it.
Iyer was hitting at 150 at the other end and Kohli slowly with a few boundaries here, a six there knew that he was getting close to an outrageous feat. He knew it was coming, everyone else knew that it was there for the taking. With his wife and biggest admirer, actor Anushka Sharma, his idol Tendulkar himself and who's who of the film industry apart from a packed crowd of die-hard fans in the stands, Kohli couldn't have picked a better moment and occasion than a World Cup semi-final in Mumbai to get to a historic 50th ODI century and his 80th for India at the highest level.
Let that sink in for a moment, as Harsha Bhogle said on commentary. It's monumental so much so that, a couple of years, maybe five years later, you'd think about how big it is, how crucial it was for fans to remember and recall the phenomenon that is Kohli, who continues to surprise everyone watching and himself. Because, it's not easy to carry the hopes and dreams of 1.4 billion people and still be able to do what he does with such nonchalance.