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Cricket

Here’s to another 100 Tests, Virat!

Written by : Prithvi (Puneite_)

c Sammy b DeoNarine read the scorecard on an emotional afternoon in Wankhede on Nov 15th 2013. It marked the closure of one the most significant eras in the history of world cricket as Sachin Tendulkar headed towards pavilion for the final time in international cricket. Everyone was already asking themselves,  “Who will be our next test great?”  “Who will carry on the rich legacy of Indian test batters?”  The answer lied RIGHT THERE in front of everyone, a 25-year old Virat Kohli stood on the boundary line, waiting for the Master to take his final bow on the field. Sachin walks out, and Kohli walks in and hits the first ball for a boundary. The baton was passed, it is as symbolic a change of guard as there can be.

As Virat Kohli took the field at Mohali in what was his 100th Test match, he had ticked almost all the boxes and exceeded the expectations of millions of fans. “It is not easy to play 100 Test matches. Test cricket is not easy. To be able to play one is great, to be able to play 100 is a fantastic achievement. It is something Virat Kohli can be proud of” – Rahul Dravid. This kind of statement could not have come from a better person than one of the greatest Test players the world has ever known.

Virat had already made a name for himself at 23 when he won the ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year award and there was seldom any doubt he wouldn’t make it big in the longest format. However, every story involves a struggle. The West Indies series in which he made his Test debut was a forgettable one and he was subsequently dropped from the side. Virat had another chance at Wankhede in the final Test and he added a half century in both innings. But the biggest challenge lied ahead: THE TOUR DOWN UNDER. His future with the team hung in the balance and to make matters worse, he became embroiled in the “fingergate” controversy at SCG. The noise to drop him increased as the third Test at WACA approached. The best players make the most of every opportunity, as was the case with him at Adelaide, when he scored his maiden test century, standing tall against the raging trio of Siddle, Harris, and Hilfenhaus. The lone bright spot in an otherwise nightmare series where India received yet another 4-0 drubbing in less than 6 months. 

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3 years later, India were playing at the same venue against the same opposition. Kohli’s captaincy debut ended in a disappointing 48 run loss but his captaincy career started with him going for an improbable target on Day 5. Kohli told the team a night before “no matter what the target is, we will chase it”. His words and his approach in the 4th innings were enough to convey the mentality and culture change he was about to bring to the team in the future. He also became the only 2nd batter to score twin 100s on captaincy debut after Greg Chappel. By Sydney he was the permanent captain of the Indian test team as MS Dhoni decided to call it a day. The task ahead was daunting, as India ranked seventh in the rankings. His vision was clear. He told Allan Donald during the IPL that India would become the number one test team in the world. The journey under his leadership started in Sri Lanka by winning the 1st series in 22 years and then decimating South Africa at home who hadn’t lost a single overseas series in 9 years. In his 68 Tests as a captain, he led India to 40 wins, making him one of the most successful captains in 145 years of Test history. No Indian captain has led the team in so many Tests. No Indian captain has recorded as many wins – home and away. No Indian captain has had a better win-loss ratio. His captaincy career just won’t be defined by records and overseas wins. As Ashwin aptly summarized, his legacy will be defined by the benchmarks he has set, and it will be a challenging task for his successor to carry that legacy forward.

Averaging 50 after playing 100 tests is a tremendous achievement, especially when the global batting averages have nosedived since 2015. Batting average in 2018 was around 26.3 – the fourth lowest in a year in the post war era and the lowest in any year since 1959. Virat Kohli is the only batsman with 1000+ Test runs in 2018 (1322 runs). The peak of his Test career coincided with his captaincy where he achieved many accomplishments, such as scoring 7 double centuries, four of those coming in 4 consecutive series thus passing Don Bradman and Rahul Dravid who scored three double tons in three series. At the end of his captaincy, he was ranked 2nd on the list of most centuries (20), fourth on the list of highest run scorers, and had the best batting average (54.8) with a min of 4000 runs.

When Virat Kohli is the captain, there is never a dull moment on the field, he is always in the ears of every batter, he treats each delivery as a spectacle, encourages the crowd, and makes the sport entertaining. One of the few players in world cricket who can attract crowds with all his theatre, fist-pumping on the field, the aggressive in your face style of cricket and then complement that with his batting. He is box office. While his Test cricket returns since the pandemic began are just a shadow of what he used to be, but who doesn’t go through rough patches? Winners are known to rise, the runs will flow again.