Debjit Mukherjee: “I had this sense of ‘it’s going to be something more,’ today rather than ‘it’s just one more game in the World Cup.’ I did wake up with that excitement, yes,” Virat Kohli said after his match-winning 101 not out off 121 balls against South Africa in Kolkata, on his 35th birthday, an innings that brought him level with Sachin Tendulkar’s world record of 49 ODI hundreds.
“It was a big game,” Kohli said after winning the Player of the Match award. “We were probably playing the toughest team in the tournament that we had played so far, to be honest. They played some amazing cricket. There was this motivation of wanting to do well for the team. Because it happened on my birthday, people made it a bit more special for me. I had this sense of ‘it’s going to be something more today’ rather than ‘it’s just one more game in the World Cup’. I did wake up with that excitement, yes.”
After Kohli completed his 49th hundred, Tendulkar posted a congratulatory message on the social media platform X, saying: “Well played Virat. It took me 365 days to go from 49 to 50 earlier this year. I hope you go from 49 to 50 and break my record in the next few days. Congratulations!!”
When asked about Tendulkar’s message and his achievement, an emotional Kohli said, “it’s all too much to take in right now.”
“Tendulkar’s message is quite special. For me, it’s all too much to take in right now, to be honest, to equal my hero’s record in one-day internationals is something that’s a huge honour for me. I know that people like comparisons, I am never going to be as good as him. There’s a reason why we all looked up to him. He’s perfection when it comes to batting. I am trying to do my best, trying to win games for my country. He’s always going to be my hero regardless of what happens. It’s a very emotional moment for me. I know where I come from, the days that I watched him play on TV. So to stand here and get this appreciation from someone like him means a lot to me.”
After Rohit Sharma gave India a flying start against South Africa, Kohli began his innings in the sixth over and then lost Shubman Gill in the 11th, with the score 93 for 2. He reached the record-equalling hundred off 119 balls, getting to the milestone in the 49th over by punching Kagiso Rabada to cover for a single in front of a near-capacity crowd at Eden Gardens. While Tendulkar scored his 49th century in his 451st ODI innings, Kohli got there in just his 277th innings in his 289th match. His innings – and partnership of 134 off 158 balls with Shreyas Iyer – helped India score 326 for 5 in a game they eventually won by 243 runs.
“People from the outside probably look at the game in a different way,” he said. “When the openers start in that fashion when the ball is new, you feel like wow, this is a belter and everyone has to keep going that way. But the conditions changed with the old ball, the pitch slows down. Message from the management was simple: I bat deep, the guys around me they bat with me, string in partnerships, express themselves and keep doing the job that the team wants me to do. That’s my role, has always been my role. I was just happy from that perspective because on pitches like these, if you get out, you can always look back and say 295, maybe we could have got 320-325. Once you are above 315, we knew it’s above par and we are in a comfortable situation.”
Kohli now has two hundreds in the 2023 World Cup to go with four half-centuries in eight league games so far. He is the second highest run-scorer in the tournament behind South Africa’s Quinton de Kock, his 543 runs coming at an average of 108.60 and strike rate of 88.29. It is the first time he has scored more than 500 runs in an ODI World Cup.
After a couple of low-key years, Kohli’s hundred continues a prolific 2023 for him in the ODI format. He has more than 1000 runs with five centuries in 2023, at an average of 72.18 and strike rate of 99.82. It is the eighth time he has scored more than 1000 ODI runs in a year, surpassing Tendulkar’s record of seven.
“I would say I am enjoying myself, playing cricket all over again which is more important now than thinking about phases and such,” he said. I think in a phase where things were not working, you are not enjoying yourself. That’s what I take out of it. You are still able to score runs because of your experience. But being out there, even for those 50-60 runs is not as enjoyable as it is right now. I am just happy with God’s blessed me with that enjoyment again and I can do the things that I have done for so many years all over again.”