In the world of cricket, Virat Kohli has long been a name synonymous with excellence. As he celebrates his 35th birthday today, one might wonder if Kohli needs an occasion to feel extraordinary. Picture this: 70,000 people cheering “Happy Birthday” as he steps onto the pitch to bat. It’s a surreal experience, but for Kohli, every day on the cricket field is special. He’s the kind of cricketer who thrives under the spotlight, be it in IPL or international matches, practice sessions, or World Cup games.
On his 35th birthday, Kohli is on the cusp of achieving something truly monumental. He has the opportunity to equal Sachin Tendulkar’s record of the most One Day International (ODI) centuries during the World Cup 2023 match against South Africa at the iconic Eden Gardens.
A few days ago, at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Kohli fell just 12 runs short of equalling Tendulkar’s world record of 49 ODI centuries. It would have been fitting for Kohli to attain this godly status at the hallowed grounds of Wankhede, especially against Sri Lanka, the team that India defeated 12 years ago to win the World Cup at the same venue. However, it was not to be.
This time, Kohli’s date with destiny is at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the very place where his remarkable journey began 14 years ago. In December 2009, a young Kohli, still finding his footing at the international level, played a sublime innings of 107 off 114 balls, marking his first ODI century. It was a momentous occasion as he helped India chase down 316 with seven wickets in hand. This was also the first of Kohli’s 48 ODI centuries and his 27th in run-chases. Although the setting of an international century was different, the feeling was the same. Despite being a Delhi boy, Kohli had played numerous matches at the historic Eden Gardens during his formative years, including his impressive centuries.
Now, 14 years later, Kohli returns to Eden Gardens as the undisputed king of cricket, in pursuit of his elusive 49th century. The venue had grand plans to distribute Kohli masks to every spectator and conduct a cake-cutting ceremony before the match, but these were canceled at the last moment, as the ICC doesn’t permit such grand gestures for any player during a World Cup.
However, Kohli is not one to need grand gestures. This World Cup is his stage, and he is the conductor of this cricketing orchestra. This was evident when the Delhi crowd, after a single gesture from Kohli, switched their support to Afghanistan pacer Naveen-ul-Haq, and the Wankhede Stadium echoed with chants of “Shubman Shubman.”
Similar scenes are expected at Eden Gardens on Sunday. The teaser for this was evident on Saturday when Kohli, during practice, asked the crowd to keep quiet and let him train. The usual “Kohli Kohli” chants transformed into silent admiration.
Kohli, however, remains unfazed by turning 35 or nearing a world record 49 centuries. According to India’s head coach, Rahul Dravid, Kohli is focused on winning the tournament and playing exceptional cricket. In fact, Dravid hinted at Kohli showcasing his bowling skills as a birthday return gift to fans.
This ODI match in Kolkata is significant for Kohli. It will be his first at this venue since 2017 when he scored 92 on a challenging pitch and was named the Player of the Match. In the seven ODIs he has played at Eden Gardens, he has maintained an average of 47, including three half-centuries and a century.
Against South Africa, Kohli’s performance is even more remarkable, with an average of 61 in 30 ODIs against them. He has notched up four centuries and eight fifties against the Proteas.
As Virat Kohli strides onto the field at Eden Gardens on his 35th birthday, cricket enthusiasts around the world will be holding their breath, anticipating history in the making.