At Pune’s MCA Stadium, on 11 October, Virat Kohli reached Test match batting seventh heaven: he hit his seventh Test double century – the most for an Indian, and the most for any captain; he became the fourth-fastest to 7000 Test runs; he also became India’s seventh-highest run-getter in Tests.
Seven double centuries.
Don Bradman, Kumar Sangakkara, Brian Lara. That’s the entire list of batsmen with more (double tons) in 142 years of Test cricket.
Seven double centuries in 81 Tests. Most mortals would give a lot to be able to dream of that return. But guess what? As of July 2016 – a year-and-a-half into his term as Indian Test captain, and 41 games into his Test career – Kohli had never touched the magic figure of 200.
In 40 subsequent Test matches, the Indian skipper has breached the landmark on seven occasions. It’s a time period in which Kohli has averaged 67.66, requiring under 10 innings to bring up a 200, and converting nearly half of all his hundreds (seven out of 15) into a double.
To put things in perspective: all other Indian batsmen put together have registered three double tons in this spell, and no batsman in the international game has hit more than two.
It’s as purple a patch can be (assuming 40 Tests, over the course of three years, can be considered a ‘patch’), and it has neatly coincided with him being handed the added mantle of responsibility.
This surreal surge, in fact, dates back to the time Kohli became India’s 32nd Test captain. Prior to that, in 31 Tests (discounting the Adelaide Test of 2014, where he stepped in as captain for the then-injured MS Dhoni), Kohli averaged a fairly humble 41.13. Now in his 50th Test as the man in-charge, Kohli’s average as captain is a monstrous 64.36 – taking his career figure above 55 (at the end of the first innings of the Pune Test).
He showed it the first time he ever donned the captaincy hat, at Adelaide in 2014, with those imperious twin hundreds that put him in a league of extraordinary gentlemen, and the imperiousness in batting has been a constant through his 50 Tests at the helm.
So much so, that when he got to three figures at Pune, it ended his longest run without a Test century since 2015. How many innings? 10.
This, considering the scars from the knock-on effect captaincy had on the batting of some of India’s greatest ever gems, becomes truly exceptional. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly – all saw their Test batting averages slide southwards when taking charge of the team; for Kohli to be at the absolute other pole, in a time when Test batting averages have been at all-time lows, is spectacular.
And it isn’t only in comparison to past Indian captains that Kohli’s batsmanship stands out – you could put him up against most of the all-time greats of Test cricket.
He not only extended his world record of having the most double centuries as Test captain, but the 254 not out against South Africa was also Kohli’s 19th ton in less than five years of captaincy; he’s now level with Ricky Ponting, and only Graeme Smith has more hundreds as Test captain (25).
But it is in his consistency, and his conversion, that Kohli can stake claims towards the summit of the dual role of batting as Test captain – Smith’s 25 hundreds came in 193 innings, while Ponting’s 19 were accumulated over 140 innings; Kohli has 19 in 83.
A hundred every 4.4 innings.
Only six batsmen have struck 15 or more Test hundreds while captaining their sides, and of those six, only one – Steven Smith – betters Kohli’s conversion rate. But Kohli has played 23 more innings than Smith (you could argue the ‘what could have been’ of Smith, but history doesn’t take what-ifs into account).
Even stretching the canvas and considering every captain with five Test centuries in his name – and there are 50 such cases in Test history – only two other batsmen aside from Smith have notched up triple-digit scores at a faster rate than Kohli. One of them is called Bradman; the other, Sangakkara, had a significantly smaller sample space of 26 innings as Test captain (in which he hit seven hundreds).
Add to all of this the make-up and breakdown of Kohli’s 19 hundreds as captain, and you get a burgeoning behemoth of batsmanship.
At home, Australia is the only opposition against whom Kohli is yet to have registered a century since becoming captain – and, quite neatly, Kohli has at least one double hundred versus five of the other six opponents: New Zealand, England, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and now South Africa.
Away from home, Bangladesh is the only country captain Kohli has returned from without a three-figure score – mind you, he only has one solitary innings in Bangladesh in the captain’s capacity to date. Australia? Four tons in 11 innings. England? Two in 10. South Africa? One in six (in a treacherously low-scoring series). Sri Lanka and West Indies? Three in 18.
Essentially, all Kohli needs is hundreds in Bangladesh and New Zealand (where he is yet to have played a Test a captain), and one against Australia at home – and he will have completed the entire set: hundreds, home and away, against every opponent he’s come up against as skipper.
That Virat Kohli is well on his way to being regarded as one of India’s best-ever Test captains is well established – he already boasts more wins than any other Indian captain managed.
That Virat Kohli is among the greatest-ever batsmen to have played international cricket is, also, already established – this was his 69th international hundred, leaving him just two adrift of Ricky Ponting, after which only one Sachin Tendulkar will lie ahead of him.
The pantheon of champion batsmen-captains? You’d start with Bradman, you’d put Ponting there, you’d put both the Smiths, Lara and Cook. You'll also put Kohli; and given the time he’s having, and the time he has on his side, you’d be brave to bet against him going all the way up to the top of that bracket, close to if not at par with the great Sir Don.
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