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India's Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a century during the Cricket World Cup match against South Africa at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Virat Kohli on Sunday made a 49th one-day international century, taking him level with Sachin Tendulkar’s all-time record, but he will remain wary of any comparisons with his fellow cricket icon.

Kohli, celebrating his 35th birthday, reached the milestone ton in his 277th innings, far quicker than Tendulkar’s 438 visits to the crease, in the World Cup game against South Africa in Kolkata.

“Virat never played for records. They happened as he progressed,” Kohli’s biographer Vijay Lokapally told AFP.

“His batting skills and work ethic combined to create magic. Longevity leads to milestones and that is what Virat has inherited from stalwarts like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar.”

Kohli has invoked a similar emotional response from cricket-crazy Indian and global fans that was once enjoyed by Tendulkar.

Kohli’s number 18 jersey has an overwhelming presence in Indian grounds.

With more than 26,000 international runs and a total of 79 centuries across three formats, comparisons with Tendulkar are obvious but Lokapally disagrees.

“He dislikes this comparison. He has his identity. Sachin Tendulkar has his. Their styles differ,” said Lokapally.

“Sachin has faced some ferocious bowlers. Virat has dominated too. Sachin is incomparable. If Virat is enjoying his cricket today it is because of the reputation Indian cricket acquired courtesy of Sachin Tendulkar.”

Former India batsman Mohammad Kaif said: “When Virat Kohli wants a 100, he gets it. So what if India needed just 169 to win when he came out to bat? Few understand the art of run-making in ODIs like him.”

India last won a global title with the 2013 Champions Trophy and their previous World Cup victory came in 2011 under Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

‘Special feeling’

Kohli and teammate Ravichandran Ashwin were part of the winning team 12 years ago and he spoke about the emotions of playing at the 50-over showpiece.

“Just the two of us from 2011,” the former captain said after reaching his 48th ODI century against Bangladesh in Pune earlier in the World Cup.

“It’s a special feeling playing at home, playing in front of all these people, we just want to make the most of it.”

Known to wear his heart on the sleeve, Kohli has never shied away from a battle on the field and despite his regular brush with controversies the star remains one of the most popular cricketers.

Fans invading the pitch to touch his feet and take selfies remain regular occurrences at Indian venues.

He is also fabulously wealthy, leading India’s list of highest-paid athletes with earnings of $33.9 million mainly from brand endorsements, according to analysts Sportico’s 2022 list.

Kohli went through an extended lean patch that spread across since 2021, failing to reach three figures in over 1,000 days.

He quit as T20 skipper in late 2021 and was soon sacked from the ODI captaincy.

Mental struggles

Kohli gave up leading the Test side too and later talked about his mental struggles during his dry phase, including how he had been “snappy” around his Bollywood actress wife Anushka Sharma.

Kohli hit his first hundred after a gap of 1,020 days in the 2022 T20 World Cup and has not looked back.

“He is literally exceptional in every role in his life,” Anushka posted on Instagram to mark her husband’s birthday.

Kohli’s five memorable centuries

First timer - December 24, 2009

Kohli made his ODI debut in 2007 in Sri Lanka and hit his first century in the following year against the same opposition at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

A 21-year-old Kohli was already identified as a special talent and came to bat at number four after Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir.

He hit 107 and was involved in a 224-run third-wicket stand with Gambhir, who hit an unbeaten 150, as India chased down a target of 316 with 11 balls and seven wickets to spare.

The knock established Kohli as a dependable batsman and the start of being the chase master that he eventually became.

Aussie ruler - October 20, 2010

Kohli hit his first ODI hundred against Australia in Visakhapatnam in another successful chase against an opposition attack featuring Mitchell Starc.

The top-order batsman came in after the fall of opener Shikhar Dhawan off the second ball and hit an unbeaten 118 to see the team through in 48.5 overs.

He put on key partnerships including a 137-run stand with Yuvraj Singh in a match where skipper M.S. Dhoni was out for a duck and opposition captain Michael Clarke made 111 not out.

“Kohli batted perfectly,” said Dhoni after the five-wicket win.

Home hero - October 17, 2011

A ton at his home ground in Delhi delighted Kohli no end when he hit an unbeaten 112 against England as India chased down their victory target of 238 with ease.

By now Kohli was one of India’s most consistent batsmen and he showed his class in an unbeaten stand of 209 with Gambhir, who hit 84, to crush England by eight wickets.

England skipper Alastair Cook said, “Virat and Gambhir showed us how it’s done” after India achieved the win in 36.4 overs.

Kohli said it was “especially satisfying” playing on his home turf - the Feroz Shah Kotla ground.

High life - March 18, 2012

Kohli’s 183 off 148 balls at an Asia Cup league match in Mirpur remains his highest ODI score and a knock that pulverised the Pakistan bowling, who were unable to defend 329.

Kohli put on two century partnerships including one with his idol Tendulkar, who made 52, as India won by six wickets.

Despite the win, India failed to make the final, but Kohli, who hit 22 fours and one six in his blitz later said, “I kind of surprised myself (in that knock). From there my belief grew more and more.”

World first - February 15, 2015

Kohli’s 107 against Pakistan in Adelaide was his first century in a World Cup and an Indian win made it all the more special.

Kohli held the innings together and allowed Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina to attack in a mature knock coming of 126 balls.

India rode on the ton to post 300, a total their bowlers defended by dismissing their arch-rivals for 224 with Mohammed Shami picking up four wickets.

Kohli was named man of the match and said he likes the “expectations” of the cricket-crazy nation and his millions of fans.