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Second wind at 34: Sachin Tendulkar showed it’s possible, up to Virat Kohli now


Virat Kohli is just about 70 days from turning 34; too early to say he is in the twilight of his career. But at the same time, not many would say that his best is yet to come, especially after the lofty peaks he achieved between 2012 and 2019. Even if it is unlikely that he would retrace those paths, a second wind, where he bats freely and notches up a few more hundreds, is what the country expects from him. Not unreasonable given what Sachin Tendulkar, from whom Kohli took over the baton as Indian cricket’s superstar, achieved after turning 34.

Certain parallels can be drawn between Tendulkar and Kohli’s careers at 34. Tendulkar, by his own admission, was at the lowest ebb of his career at the end of India’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign in West Indies. He had been tormented by a series of injuries – finger, elbow, shoulder – for over three years and had become a pale shadow of his former self. Add to that, the much-publicised dressing room conflicts during Greg Chappell’s tenure as India coach.

Kohli, unlike Tendulkar, has not been troubled by frequent injuries but the demands of playing all formats plus the Indian Premier League (IPL) have taken a toll on him. Then there was the small matter of the stripping of his titles, one by one, and King Kohli, within a few months, lost his palace.

In Tests, Tendulkar averaged just 28 and 33 in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons respectively. Though his numbers looked better in ODIs, 39 and 41 respectively over the two seasons, he looked out of sorts mostly. He dedicated a chapter named ‘Endulkar’, alluding to an infamous headline from those times that hurt him deeply, in his autobiography to talk about the struggles and how he contemplated retiring after India’s exit from the 2007 World Cup.

As for Kohli, who once looked like someone in a hurry to break Tendulkar’s record of 100 international hundreds, the last three years have been frustrating and the wait for his 71st century continues. His Test average from the beginning of 2020 is 27 over 18 games and his overall average has come below 50 for the first time in many years. In ODIs, the format he dominated for a decade, he averaged just 37 from 20 games in the period. Under him, India failed to advance from the group stage of the 2020 T20 World Cup.

Not captain anymore, Kohli’s place in the Indian team has come under scrutiny, especially T20Is in which his conventional straight-bat stroke-making is deemed outdated. Is time running out for him? Kohli’s career seems to be at a crossroads now, similar to what Tendulkar encountered after the 2007 World Cup.

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Many cricket fans who lost sleep over Tendulkar’s form were resigned to the fact that a great career was coming to a rather painful and premature end. However, even those who hoped he would return to form would not have expected what came after Tendulkar turned 34 on April 24, 2007: A purple patch in which he just seemed to get better and better.

First, the stats. Tendulkar scored 8,832 international scores after 34. Only Misbah-ul-Haq (9,313) scored more than him after crossing that age. Only Kumar Sangakkara scored more centuries (26) than his 24. It is to be noted here that Misbah played most of his cricket after turning 34 and Sangakkara found an astonishing streak of consistency in the latter stages of his career. In other words, they were not looking to reclaim what was lost.

In Tests, no one scored more runs than Tendulkar’s 5,253 after the age of 34, not even Graham Gooch (5,154), considered to be someone who got better with age. As for centuries, he has 16 and shares the top spot with Younis Khan.

In fact, Tendulkar’s numbers took a beating due to the two-year slump leading up to his retirement in 2013. If narrowed down to the end of the 2011 World Cup, they are more impressive: 4,024 runs in 42 Tests at an average of 63.87 and 3,264 runs in 69 ODIs at 51. Truly, a second wind if ever there was one.

‘Tendulkar 2007-11′ was a different beast for he found ways to score runs at ease without taking many risks. If Tendulkar in his early 20s provided adrenaline rush, on the wrong side of his 30s, he gave assurance.

During this period, Tendulkar went past Brian Lara to become the highest run-getter in Tests and ensured there was daylight between him and Ricky Ponting, who at one point was breathing down his neck. The superman from India also scored ODI cricket’s first 200 and won a World Cup for the first time, that too by playing a key role in India’s success by finishing second among the tournament’s leading run-scorers. He showed even T20 cricket was not beyond him topping the run-charts in IPL 2010. Just to tickle our fancy, and to show how he constantly updates his game, he even unfurled a Dhoni-like helicopter shot in the IPL.

Kohli believes his lack of runs is not down to any technical issues. (File)

Can Kohli do a Tendulkar?

Coming back to Kohli, who will turn 34 on November 5, no one knows whether he will be able to emulate Tendulkar and roar back into form. But one knows that the global cricket landscape has changed since Tendulkar left. Cricket administrators worldwide seem to believe that T20 and franchise cricket are the ways to go. The relevance of 50-over cricket is being questioned. The relevance of Kohli in T20 teams is being questioned.

But Kohli, for the moment, is not ready to move on from T20s. The Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup may determine his future in the shortest format of the game. Kohli believes his lack of runs is not down to any technical issues. Some believe that it is just a matter of him getting to that three-figure mark and the runs will flow again. Kohli also said that once he comes out of this phase, he knows how consistent he can be.

“I know where my game stands and you cannot run this far in your international career without having the ability to counter situations and counter conditions and counter different kinds of bowling,” he said ahead of the Asia Cup.

With his supreme fitness and intense desire to succeed, Kohli, in all probability, will bounce back sooner than later. And Indian cricket fans will be hoping that his second wind would be as prolific and exhilarating as Tendulkar’s was. It certainly won’t be easy, but as Shahid Afridi said recently, the mark of a truly great player is how he handles adversities. We shall know soon.





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