100 hundreds a logical path for run-machine Virat Kohli

In November, Virat Kohli  will turn 30. It is a widely held belief that in cricket, this is the decade in which top batsmen reach their peak. Statistics show this to be true, down the years. If you want a more relative modern-day example, just look at Alastair Cook, for starters.

A detailed statistical analysis on ESPNCricinfo in 2016 titled ‘Older, wiser, deadlier’ delved into the matter of batsmen flourishing in their 30s. In their analysis, the two statisticians observed that while 32 is the recognised ‘best’ age for batsmen, the current decade has seen batsmen 35 and over averaging 43.36 in Test cricket – much higher than in the previous decade where it was 35.34.

READ: Kohli first Indian after Sachin Tendulkar to become top-ranked Test batsman

The key batsmen in this category were Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Misbah-ul-Haq. Of course, playing just Tests in their twilight years meant that Tendulkar, Kallis and Chanderpaul were not physically drained as some of their peers who appeared in all formats.

In 375 international innings, Kohli has scored 57 centuries. That equates to a century every seven innings, rounded up. This year, he has scored five centuries in 24 innings; from the other 19 times he batted, Kohli has five fifties and five scores in the forties.

READ: Kohli can score century after 50-day off, others need practice: Sunil Gavaskar

At 29, he has already surpassed the likes of Mahela Jayawardene (54), Brian Lara (53), Rahul Dravid (48) and Hashim Amla (54) in the list, currently sitting at fifth place with 56 international hundreds in 330 combined matches. Leading the list of most international centuries is, of course, the legend himself, Tendulkar, who in a luminous career that spanned 22 years scored 100 centuries across the Test and ODI formats, while topping the overall list with mind-boggling 34,357 runs. Second on the overall centurion’s list is the batsman most commonly linked with Tendulkar’s genius, the former Australia captain Ricky Ponting who made 71 international hundreds, followed by Sri Lankan great Sangakkara with 63 and arguably the greatest allrounder ever, Kallis, with 62.

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Why can we expect Kohli to ease into the aforementioned group of batting elite, and indeed romp his way to the top? For starters, his fitness. It is his ability to score at more than a run-a-ball while renouncing risky shots that makes him so dangerous, and successful. In cricket, for too long, batting faster meant taking risks. Not for Kohli.

During an ODI against South Africa this year, he became the first Indian batsman, and fifth overall, to score 100 runs through just running. Broken down, his unbeaten 160 off 159 deliveries was made up of 72 singles, 22 twos, three triples and the remaining 60 runs in boundaries. It is a remarkable statistic, and one that underscores the physical drive of the fittest cricketer around.

During his best T20I innings, a surreal 82* off 51 balls against Australia during the 2016 ICC World T20, Kohli at one stage of India’s chase ran four twos in the span of five deliveries. His unbeaten 89 off 47 balls against West Indies in the semi-final of that same tournament contained just four dot balls. More proof of a batsman pushing his limits to stay ahead of the rest, while enjoying a mighty successful time.

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In Misbah, who played international cricket until the ages of 43, we have perhaps the closest comparison to Kohli. Fit as anyone in the Pakistan team, Misbah exited T20Is in 2012, ODIs in 2015 and played Test cricket until May 2017. This allowed him to reserve his energy for the format he was most successful in. During team training, Misbah was as enthusiastic as team-mates 15 years younger, which offers a glimpse into his physical and mental aptitude. He could have played ODIs too at 43, such was his physical fitness. It is not difficult to imagine Kohli, in his early 40s, being as fit as Misbah was – if not fitter. It is unlikely that Kohli will be an active cricketer after 40, but not impossible.

Second, there is Kohli’s appetite for runs. It is, frankly, insatiable. Yes, he averaged less than 10 last year in three Tests against Australia at home in 2017. But a total of 2818 international runs last year, the third most ever after Sangakkara and Ponting, shows the man’s obsession to dominate.

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He is not only the best chaser in ODIs today, he could well be the best ever. In the history of ODIs, only six times have targets in excess of 350 been overhauled. India have been victors on three of those instances, with a Kohli hundred the common link. In 122 ODI innings batting second, Kohli has 21 centuries. No batsman has scored more. Tendulkar scored 17 in 134 innings more than it took Kohli to get to 17. Kohli’s average in chases is 67.72, his strike-rate 93.89. In T20Is, when India bat second, Kohli averages 83.28 at a strike-rate of 135.26.

Third, there is the critical aspect of Kohli’s cricketing genius: the desire to change perceptions. Look at any passage of his career where failure has been a passenger or when he has found critics singling out aspects of his game. Cocky, immature and not fit for Tests? He is now India’s most successful Test captain. Suspect outside of India? Kohli has five Test centuries in Australia, two in South Africa and now one in England, the country in which he averaged 13.40 across five Tests in 2014.

Of his 35 ODI hundreds, four have come in Australia. During India’s landmark 5-1 ODI series triumph in South Africa this year, he scored the most runs by any batsman ever during a bilateral ODI series: 558 in six innings, with three centuries and a fifty.

At Edgbaston, Kohli scored 200 runs. The other 10 Indian cricketers managed 214. He was on 97 when India lost their ninth wicket in the form of Ishant Sharma, but in the company of Umesh Yadav he carved his 14th boundary to reach three figures. Of the 92 runs added by Kohli and India’s last three, the last three made eight.

Given this kind of form, and the fact that Kohli has at least six years of top-flight cricket in him, is it unthinkable that he scores the most international hundreds? Not at all, even if you factor in a few batting slumps.

Kohli is currently the epitome of consistency, while breaking convention with his ability to sprint singles and doubles even after crossing 200 in Tests. How can he possibly be reeling off scores like this with such frequency, and apparent ease?

Because he is Kohli, and he is on the path to becoming India’s greatest batsman.