Virat Kohli’s astounding march towards Sachin Tendulkar's ODI centuries record makes him a peerless modern champion

  • Rohit Sankar
  • October 23rd, 2017
  • 13:32:05 IST

The Wankhede, 22 October, 2017

Tim Southee to Virat Kohli

The Indian skipper, tired from the heat, sweating profusely and battling for his country, pulls the Kiwi seamer to deep fine leg and ambled along for a single that would take him to his 31st ODI hundred. That the century came on the occasion of his 200th ODI makes it even more special. He had gone past Ricky Ponting's mark of 30 ODI hundreds and only one man lies ahead of him in terms of century count in this format of the game. We all know who that is.

Kohli now seems to be on a march towards the Master Blaster's record of 49 hundreds. Nothing seems to stop him. That the record would eventually be passed on to Kohli seems inevitable. Four years ago, when the legend walked off the cricketing field, the 49 hundreds looked taller than Mount Everest and deeper than the Pacific Ocean. Today, Kohli has made that look so normal that Tendulkar's loss is no longer mourned upon each time India lose.

Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a century against New Zealand in their first ODI. AFP

Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring a century against New Zealand in their first ODI. AFP

The world sat up and took notice of this brash, aggressive lad from Delhi for the first time when he led the India Under-19 team to a World Cup victory in Malaysia nine years back. He went from strength to strength, smashing runs at will and ironing out the sorrow of Tendulkar’s departure from the minds of ardent fans in India. When he tamed the Lankan lion, Lasith Malinga, at Hobart in 2012 with that insane run chase of 320 in less than 40 overs, he was hailed as the next Indian great.

Kohli's mastery over run chases and the tempo with which he built his ODI innings earned him rave reviews. In the age of AB de Villiers and MS Dhoni, Kohli carved out a special place for himself, finishing off matches with authority despite being a top-order batsman.

But all that is old news. Kohli’s affection to run chases is an all too familiar story to discuss yet again. It is time to talk about his lunatic century-hitting, composure and tenacity in the face of danger.

When Ricky Ponting blasted his 30th ODI century, it was his 349th innings in ODI cricket. Kohli needed a mere 186 to scale the same number. Even Tendulkar took 267 innings to reach his 30th hundred. Kohli is only 28 years old at the moment but is already on his way to greatness, at least in this format of the game.

His conversion rate of fifties to hundreds is unparalleled in the history of ODI cricket. Kohli has 76 scores of 50 or more in the format of which 31 have been converted to hundreds, a conversion rate of 40.78 percent. Only Hashim Amla, David Warner and Quinton de Kock boast of better conversion rates, but two of them have played less than 100 matches, scored less than 15 hundreds and are also openers, a factor that puts them at a greater advantage than Kohli to hit centuries.

The rate at which Kohli has converted his fifties to hundreds reveal his ability to stick through for the team in times of strife. He has rarely thrown his wicket away after scaling the half-century mark revealing an aptitude for big scores. Dig a little deeper and we find that, of his 45 half-centuries, 13 have been not-outs, which means that he either ran out of overs in the first innings or remained unbeaten in successful run chases. Taking his conversion rate into consideration, he would have converted five of those to hundreds as well, given the time (13*40.78 percent). Of the others in this list, only Tendulkar has more not-outs — with just one more than Kohli’s 13 — in scores between 50 and 100. But this has come in 260 more innings’ than Kohli.

Forget his rate of converting half-centuries to centuries, even his rate of hitting tons has no equivalent in the cricketing world. Kohli has 31 hundreds in 192 innings in ODIs, a rate of one hundred in every 6.19 innings. Only Amla needs fewer innings statistically — 6.12 — in the history of ODI cricket but the South African is already 34 whereas Kohli is six years younger and has five tons more. It is also worth noting that Amla is an opener and has more opportunities than Kohli, who bats behind two prolific ODI openers in Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

At his current rate of scoring hundreds, Kohli will finish with 73 ODI hundreds if he plays as many innings’ as Tendulkar. This, of course, is purely statistics based and the Indian skipper could well end up with a few more or less. Longevity was a huge reason for Tendulkar’s godly success and Kohli has a monumental question ahead of him if he needs to reach the numbers suggested. Kohli, though, humble as he is, likes to believe that he would not match Tendulkar’s numbers.

“The great man (Sachin Tendulkar) is quite a bit away. That's going to take a hell of an effort. Again, I am not thinking about that. It's only about the team where even if I score a 90 not out and the team goes across the line, it's good enough for me." Kohli had said at the press conference after the fifth ODI against Sri Lanka when the question on Tendulkar's record came up.

The chart below shows the rate of scoring hundreds (percentage of tons in total number of innings) of all the top century makers in ODI cricket. Of Kohli’s 192 innings, 16.14 percent are centuries. Only Amla has better numbers — slightly better at 16.77 — but as an opener he has a major advantage over Kohli.

His prolific run scoring is not restricted to any particular region either. He averages a minimum of 45 in all countries he has played ODI cricket in, something which sets him apart from every other player in modern day cricket. He also has hundreds in ODIs in all countries except South Africa.

At Wankhede on Sunday, en route his 31st ODI hundred, one could see a completely different side of Kohli’s batting. The fans are so used to seeing him bully around attacks on the back of a strong partner in Dhawan or Rohit, but on Sunday he had neither. New Zealand were sharp with the ball and barely gave the Indians leeway to bring out their sub-continental style bullish batting. If Trent Boult took care of the top order, Mitchell Santner and Colin Munro put a leash on the scoring rate in the middle overs.

Kohli’s maturity and growth was evident from the manner in which he changed his gameplay according to the situation. He was no longer trying to be the dominating batsman that he had been during the last two series. Instead, the skipper resorted to playing the patience game, tapping the singles and doubles but dispatching anything loose from the bowlers. That he took 111 balls for his hundred is proof of his willingness to grit it out when required.

Like Rahul Dravid says, “This concept of 'play your natural game', which I hear all the time, frustrates me because there's no such thing in my belief as 'natural game.' It's only about how you play different situations.”

That this is the first time India have lost an ODI in which Kohli has scored a hundred further reflects the kind of impact the batsman has had in the One Day side. From the impudent, brazen youth Kohli has grown over the years into a run-machine that churns out runs at will. His growth is more evident from the grace with which he accepts defeat.

“Ross [Ross Taylor] and Tom [Tom Latham] were fantastic. [New Zealand] Didn't give us any chances, apart from a run-out here or there. And when you get a 200 partnership, you deserve to win," Kohli had said at the post match presentation ceremony. The words reveal the kind of composure he has brought into his passion oozing self. While he remains the aggressive, bold, audacious player on the field, his off-field demeanor and outlook has improved by leaps and bounds. With his levels of fitness, concentration and commitment, Kohli is one step above every other player on the international circuit. In terms of the century count, he satisfies stat geeks as well.

"I look to perform as well as I can for the team. These things keep happening as you go along in your career. You don't target these things, but those stat windows are hard to neglect because they pop up everywhere after you have achieved something," Kohli had said, a sign that the statistics may have finally crossed the unignorable level.

Perhaps the time has come to accept that fact he is not merely dragging himself to Tendulkar’s mountain of 49 hundreds, he is marching towards it with remarkable sangfroid, authority and poise.

Updated Date: October 23, 2017 13:32:05 IST

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