Virat Kohli. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear or read or watch the current Indian captain? Run-machine? The Chase Master? A cricketer driven by passion, emotion, and the relentless desire to be the best in the world? Genius with the bat?
Well! Even the above adjectives aren’t enough to describe Virat Kohli, who made his international debut #OnThisDay 12 years ago for the Indian cricket team. 12 years. It almost feels surreal, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if it was only yesterday when a young, chubby 19-year-old Delhi cricketer went out to open the batting for India alongside Gautam Gambhir against Sri Lanka for the very first time in his career.
2008 was a special year for Indian cricket. It was a year that not only led to the beginning of the biggest revolution in the sport in the form of the cash-rich Indian Premier League, but it also saw the emergence of one of India’s greatest-ever cricketers in the form of Virat Kohli.
Virat had shot into prominence after he led the Indian colts to the titular heist in the 2008 edition of the U-19 World Cup in Malaysia. An IPL contract with the Royal Challengers Bangalore soon followed. The turning point in Virat Kohli’s career, however, came during the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia, where the Delhi cricketer, while opening the batting smashed a brilliant 120 not-out against New Zealand for the National Cricket Academy.
Virat’s hundred helped his side chase down the target in a mere 41 overs and those exploits were enough for then chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar- who was in the stands when Virat Kohli scored that brilliant hundred- to Fastrack him into the Indian national team.
The beginning of the Virat Kohli era
And, so on 18th August 2008, Virat Kohli became the 175th ODI player to make his debut for Team India. Kohli made his debut as an opener alongside Gautam Gambhir after regular opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were ruled out of the five-match series against Sri Lanka due to injury.
The current Indian superstar did not have the best of debut outings as he managed a 22-ball 12 before getting leg-before-wicket by Nuwan Kulasekara. India went on to lose that game by eight wickets. But, little that anyone knew that it was the start of a journey that would see Virat Kohli impinge himself as one of the greatest-ever ODI batsman of all times.
The pivotal moment of Kohli’s ODI career came in the 2009 Champions Trophy where he scored an unbeaten 79 against the West Indies to win his maiden ‘Player of the Match’ record. A month or two later, the current Indian captain notched up his maiden ODI ton- also against Sri Lanka- as India chased down a 300 -plus total at Eden Gardens. With the Indian batting-unit choke-a-block, opportunities came as gold dust and Kohli ensured he made use of them to the hilt.
The Delhi batsman scored as many as 4 ODI hundreds before the 2011 World Cup, making sure that he asserted a permanent spot in the Indian team for the marquee quadrennial event. Kohli kickstarted the World Cup with a bang as he became the first Indian to score a hundred on World Cup debut [vs Bangladesh]. But it was his 35 against Sri Lanka in the finals that will go down as one of his most crucial ODI innings, especially in a knockout encounter.
Taking over the burden from Sachin Tendulkar post the 2011 World Cup
”He has carried the burden of Indian cricket for two decades, it’s time we carry him on our shoulders’
These iconic lines by Virat Kohli on Sachin Tendulkar in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 World Cup win, was a true ‘passing of the baton’ moment in Indian cricket. Kohli not only carried the Master on his shoulders that iconic night but post that event, he literally took over all the burden of expectations that Sachin has carried throughout his career, to impinge himself as a new source of hope for Indian fans.
Many people will argue that his epic thrashing of Sri Lanka in Hobart where he scored 133 and helped India chase down 321 in a mere 36 overs was the turning point of his career but in my opinion, it was his 75 in Perth followed by his maiden Test hundred at the Adelaide Oval that proved to be the clincher for the current Indian captain. The satisfaction of having proven himself at the Test level after initial failures meant Kohli was a fearless beast now, for whom the situation, the improbability of the target, nothing mattered.
And, we saw that to the hilt in the following years as he scripted one heist after the other. The Hobart massacre was followed by the annihilation of Pakistan in Dhaka  where his career-best 183 helped India chase down another 300+ total, and then of-course back-to-back mauling of Australia in October 2013 where his hundreds in Jaipur [52-ball 100, fastest by an Indian] and Nagpur once against helped India breach the 300-plus total.
Kohli has scored as many as 43 ODI tons but my favorite knock of his, will always be the 34-ball 43 that he scored in the 2013 Champions Trophy Final. His partnership with Ravindra Jadeja eventually proved to be the difference in the end.
Kohli’s reputation as one of the finest chasers in the game was well and truly established and the right-hander continued to defy the odds and baffle the folklore with his astounding consistency. Kohli suffered a minor blip in his form in the 2015 World Cup where he failed to perform in the quarter-finals and semi-finals against Bangladesh and Australia despite starting off the tournament with an imperious hundred against Pakistan.
But the Indian captain shrugged off the minor blip and continued to scale more unchartered territories, en-route to becoming the fastest-ever to 10000 ODI runs [205 innings] in 2018. Since the completion of the 2015 World Cup and the start of the 2019 event, no one score more runs , more 50s , and more 100s  and at a better average [78.29] than the Indian captain.
— BCCI (@BCCI) August 18, 2020
Kohli, who is the fastest to score 8000, 9000, 10000 and 11000 ODI runs, took a mere 11 innings between 9000 and 10000 runs. His best year was unarguably 2018 where he scored 1202 runs in just 14 innings at an average of 133.55 with six hundreds and three half-centuries. He spearhead India’s maiden ODI series win in South Africa, scoring a staggering 558 runs in the six-match series as India won 5-1.
Whats’s left for Virat Kohli to achieve in ODI cricket?
The greatest hallmark of Virat Kohli’s career has been the manner in which he has masterminded run-chases. He is fittingly called the ‘chase-master’ for the manner in which he times his assault to perfection in the trickiest of run-chases. 22 of his 43 ODI tons have come in successful run-chases, in which he has averaged a staggering 96.21.
Kohli has achieved almost everything in ODI cricket. He has won World Cups, he has won Champions Trophies, he has scored runs all over the world and in the trickiest of scenarios, he has led his team to bilateral series wins in almost every country but one thing that has still alluded him is a match-winning contribution in a run-chase of a high-pressure knockout encounter. He has done that on a number of occasions in T20 World Cups but the same hasn’t been the case in 50-over tournaments.
Will he do that in the 2023 World Cup and lead India to another triumph at home? The whole world will be anticipating and watching. It always is.