Kolkata: The entire Mohun Bagan cricket team celebrated their P. Sen Trophy victory at the Eden Gardens in 2009, except for one individual. A young Virat Kohli, then just 20 years old, who had already shown promise as the U-19 World Cup captain, was quietly observing the festivities from a white cane chair outside the Eden dressing room.
Kohli's journey was still in its early stages, marked by a single half-century in five ODIs. Fast forward 14 years, and on his 35th birthday, Kohli stands ready to face South Africa on the same iconic turf, leaving a lasting impression on those who witnessed the making of a cricket genius in extreme heat and humidity.
Back in 2009, he had scored an astounding 184 runs off 121 balls in a final match against Town Club. While it wasn't a formidable opponent, Kohli's exceptional performance under harsh conditions hinted at the superstar he would become.
Speaking of that match, Kohli mentioned, "Bahut tough thaa. Lag raha tha skin phat raha hai (It was tough. The heat was unbearable)." That 'club-class' century served as a teaser for what was to come when, six months later, he scored his first of 48 ODI hundreds with 107 against Sri Lanka at the same venue, partnering with Gautam Gambhir.
Gambhir, in a gesture of encouragement, handed his player of the match cheque to the young Kohli. Perhaps, the world record-equalling 49th hundred will take place where it all started.
His dedication, humility, and unwavering discipline have stood out to his childhood coach and mentor, Rajkumar Sharma, who now shares a deep bond with Kohli, akin to a father-son relationship.
While preparing for the big game, coach Rahul Dravid emphasized that Kohli remains focused on the team's success, not just personal milestones.
Kohli has evolved from a precocious talent to a fitness enthusiast, a prolific run-scorer, and a social media influencer. Since relinquishing his captaincy, he appears more liberated and charged up.
On November 5, last year, he had deferred his birthday celebration plans until after the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne. Thie year, the CAB's (Cricket Association of Bengal) proposal for a public birthday celebration was not approved by the BCCI. Perhaps, Kohli wishes to keep everything on hold until November 19.
(With PTI inputs)