By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Circa 1990s: One player carried the burden of the whole team and almost single-handedly held the key to the nation’s hopes. Still in his early 20s, he had grown in stature to become an iconic figure. Bowlers around the world feared his sight at the wicket and celebrated with unrestrained joy when he was dismissed. Sachin Tendulkar’s value to the Indian team in the 1990s was unparalleled. The team heavily depended on him and India expected him to deliver. It was a well known fact that many people in India would switch-off their television sets the moment he was dismissed.
Year 2012: A 23-year old makes rapid strides in international cricket to be hailed as one of the best in world cricket. Such is his remarkable consistency, that comparisons with the legendary Tendulkar are inevitable. Like Tendulkar, he has become the mainstay of India’s batting at a young age. Indeed, his youthful exuberance and unmistakable fearlessness have made him a youth icon. Virat Kohli has had a phenomenal 12 months or so and his country expects him to succeed every single time he walks out to bat. The big question is: Is the Indian team dependant on Kohli the way they were on Tendulkar in the 1990s?
As a well-known magazine put it recently, Tendulkar’s rise in international cricket showed the Indians that they could compete on the cricket field and even emerge victorious against all odds. He would dominate bowlers, make the task look a cinch and a crisis would only emerge when he was dismissed. In the aftermath of Sunil Gavaskar’s retirement, India found a new star – a dependable one at that. In the early 1990s, the Indian team was going through an uncertain phase and he presented hope for a better tomorrow.
With the arrival of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and later VVS Laxman, considerable burden was lifted off Tendulkar. They went on to become a formidable middle order and after the turn of the century became a force was not solely reliant on Tendulkar. Even in one-day cricket, youngsters such as Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif showed that India could perform remarkable heists even when Tendulkar failed. They proved that with Tendulkar’s dismissal, all hope wasn’t lost. Despite all these assurances, a Tendulkar dismissal would often silence the Indian crowds – something that happens even today.
Although Kohli has been brilliant this year and some of his knocks have defied logic – it would be an exaggeration to say that India are overly-dependent on him. In contrast to the situation Tendulkar found himself in the 1990s, Kohli has number phenomenal names for company in the batting line-up. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are proven match-winners and have rallied India for a few years now. They form the core that revolves around Kohli – a cushion that provides a comfortable support.
Kohli has rarely failed this year and it would be premature to determine how dependent India are on him based on an instance or two. His wicket is undoubtedly a big bonus for the opposition as he is the in-form man capable of scripting epic knocks. It took Tendulkar some time to build that aura of unfailing dependability around him. Kohli still has some miles to go before doing the same.
One also mustn’t forget that unlike Tendulkar, Kohli entered the picture with a legend still around. It is only now - that too - in Test cricket that Kohli finds himself in a similar situation. Tendulkar may be around, but the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have called it a day. Kohli is now the symbol of hope in this transition phase.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)