"Being 22, and being able to achieve something like this, it's an amazing feeling."
Virat Kohli couldn't hold back his excitement after having lifted cricket's most prestigious trophy and its greatest ever performer Sachin Tendulkar, moments after India won the 2011 World Cup.
Kohli played a significant role in India's victory over Sri Lanka in the final. His 35 off 49 deliveries during a 50+ stand with Gautam Gambhir had lifted the home side out of troubled waters following the early dismissals of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.
The 2011 final was probably the final time in Virat's career that he entered the field amid pin-drop silence. But, it was also a 'passing of the baton' moment as the 22-year-old proceeded to give everyone a sneak peek of what was about to ensue in the following years.
The 2011 World Cup triumph was an emotional affair for a lot of Indian players, but not for Virat. That is because he did not have any baggage from past events, unlike the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, etc.
12 years later, the World Cup returns to India, and a 22-year-old heir apparent is now the King of this format. Between the 2011 World Cup and the current one, Virat has endured it all.
He was on the cusp of greatness when he became a World Cup winner in April 2011. Post that triumph, he went from strength to strength, and within the space of 12-18 months, Kohli was already the leading ODI batsman of the world; someone who would eat up run-chases for fun; obliterate and create new records every second day.
ODI batsmanship was never this easy, and yet Kohli would make it look ridiculously simple. The most stunning aspect of Virat's batting in this format, especially during his peak, was his ability to minimize risks and yet score at the run-a-ball courtesy of his surgical precision in dissecting the gaps and running as if his life depended on it.
During the 2 four-year World Cup cycles between 2011-2019, Virat asserted himself as arguably the greatest ODI batsman to have ever existed, especially during the 2015-19 cycle, where he batted at least 5 levels above the rest of the pack.
2015 World Cup: King Kohli faces familiar territory in knockouts
There is a saying "kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta', which means, "No one gets everything that he/she wishes for in life'.
This perfectly applies to Virat Kohli and ODI World Cups.
Virat has had a strange relationship with the showpiece event. He made his WC debut at the age of 22, scored a hundred in his very first outing, scored a match-winning 35 in the final, and became a World Cup winner in his very first attempt, but he also has had to endure some of the most heartbreaking moments of his career at the very same event.
He started the 2015 WC with a match-winning knock against Pakistan, but his form left him at the worst possible time, and, as a result, the champion batsman failed to deliver in the quarter-finals and semifinals against Bangladesh and Australia.
Overall, he scored 305 runs @ 50.83, which are still very good numbers, but no way close to VIRAT's standards. As a result, for the first time in his decorated career, the champion cricketer was lambasted by fans and critics for 'failing to deliver when it mattered the most
All his match-winning exploits during the 2011 WC, 2012 T20 WC, 2013 Champions Trophy, and 2014 T20 World Cup were conveniently forgotten.
2015-19- A breathtaking peak ends in utter heartbreak for Virat Kohli & India
4 years later, Virat entered the World Cup as the best batsman in the world, and as captain of the Indian Cricket Team. In the preceding cycle, he had scored 4306 runs in 69 matches @ 78.29 with a gob smacking 19 centuries against his name.
In addition to his performance, Kohli had built a strong resume as a captain following victories in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and against almost everyone at home.
So, the expectations were at an all-time high for him and the Indian team leading into the 2019 event. On expected terms, India dominated the round-robin stage, with Rohit Sharma spearheading the batting unit.
Virat wasn't far behind either as he chipped in with valuable half-centuries, but those big knocks that he had made a habit of scoring, didn't come. One of the major reasons for that, of course, is Rohit's incredible purple patch at the top of the order.
But, Kohli, like the team man he is, understood that he wasn't the lead actor here, so he happily settled into the supporting role, while, at the same time, not failing to step into the driver's seat when the opener failed.
Everything was going well for Virat and Team India, until they ran over their ultimate banana skin, New Zealand, in the semi-final.
That game, indeed, was peak irony if you look at it from Virat's point of view. Imagine being the best ODI batsman in the world, someone who has made a living out of sleepwalking through successful run-chases in his career, getting out for 1 in a modest run-chase in the game that mattered the most?
The 2019 event proved to be the first and final opportunity for Virat to become a World Cup-winning captain, and while nothing can be done about that, surely a lot can be done as an individual.
See, Virat has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone about his ODI career, but it's also a fact that the greatest batsman of this format hasn't yet lit up the marquee World Cup as he should have.
Somewhere down the line, his machine-like consistency over large periods has proved to be his undoing in previous World Cups, with the law of average striking at the worst possible time.
2023: A billion hearts yearn for Virat 2.0 to rule the World Cup
Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge since that gloomy, depressing evening in Manchester in 2019. Between then and now, it hasn't been plain sailing for the 34-year-old, however he rose like a phoenix at last year's T20 World Cup to give birth to Virat 2.0.
12 years since he walked into a packed Wankhede amid pin-drop silence, Virat Kohli is all set to resume his WC career on home soil against his favored opposition, Australia on October 08, but this time there won't be a single soul that will be quiet when he makes his entry.
A billion hearts yearn for the King of ODI cricket to finally rule the World Cup as he has done in the T20I format. For Virat too, this World Cup will be an emotional one. From being a vibrant, excited youngster in 2011, to now being a seasoned veteran, who has endured multiple heartbreaks over the years, Kohli has seen it all.
This World Cup is a perfect opportunity for arguably the greatest ODI batsman of all time to finally own the format's most prestigious tournament, nullify the only blemish on his career so far: runs in ODI WC knockouts, and also shed the immense baggage that he and his teammates have collected via continuous set-backs in knockouts.
Featured Image Credit: ICC