Virat Kohli: Modern Master and sole contender for the 100 100s club
Every time I am finished watching Virat Kohli bat, there is a strong urge to pronounce him the greatest ever. His aggressive batting style and equally aggressive on-field demeanour have shades of the great West Indian, Viv Richards.
But then, I hold myself back, as my profession teaches me not to fall prey to “recency bias”. For the uninitiated, the bias deals with the human tendency of overweighing the most recent information and drawing conclusions from that limited set of information. To draw a more robust conclusion as to where Kohli stands vis-a-vis others, I will have to pull out a few numbers. So, I have tried to quantify some of the comparisons which have been drawn every now and then. Without any further ado, let’s stack up some of the key numbers.
Kohli’s numbers are the best in his class, matched only by Hashim Amla. Kohli scores a century every 6th innings and makes sure that he converts his fifties into hundreds frequently (conversion factor of 41%). At the surface, Amla looks at par with Kohli, but a deeper investigation reveals that the Indian skipper stands out. His chasing (or 2nd Innings) average takes him miles ahead of his peers, with Amla relegated to the bottom of the list on that metric.
Numbers in motion
Overall averages and numbers condense the entire career of a player into just a few stats, often missing out on a few important details. Let us look at how the careers (ODIs) of different players have progressed.
Richards dominates across all generations with a mind-boggling average of 50+ (for most of his career) at a time when the contest between bat and ball was far more even. For Tendulkar and Ponting, the chart clearly flags two words: consistency & longevity.
Tendulkar was the slowest starter among the names mentioned above. He scored his first 100 in his 79th match and had an average of 36.5 (far cry from all the other players under consideration) by the end of his 100th match. De Villiers was a slow starter as well but caught up with the rest of the pack, implying that he performed exceptionally well in the second half of his career. Kohli and Amla, just like Viv, got off to good starts and have never let that advantage slip.
While Amla is nearing the end of his career, Kohli has a long road ahead. If he continues in the same vein for the rest of his career, he will be standing atop a mountain of runs. I do not want to break my head over how many he will end up scoring, but I’ll address one important question that pops up far too frequently.
Will he go past 100 100s?
To find the answer, I will have to dig out Kohli’s Test numbers.
Kohli’s performances in Tests have been underwhelming compared with that of his peers, and his own standards in ODIs. However, hidden in those not so bright numbers is one very interesting statistic. He has scored more 100s than 50s and has a very high conversion rate of 55%.
Assuming he plays Test cricket till 39 (Tendulkar and Dravid retired at 39 and taking into account Kohli’s fitness levels, it is a fair assumption to make), I have calculated the number of 100s he will score based on two factors: 1) his ability to raise his game to match his peers 2) conversion rate. So, I end up with 4 different scenarios ranging from 40 to 57 hundreds.
Let’s take the midpoint of the range and settle at around 50 hundreds.
Now, let’s move on to ODIs. Assuming Kohli hangs his boots at around 37 in ODIs, he still has more than 8 years of ODI cricket left. With India playing around 20-22 ODIs in a year, he will end up with somewhere between 52-55 ODI hundreds, taking his overall 100s tally to over 100.
So, he is definitely on track to overhaul the magic figure. A century of centuries is a tough task, but it is something Kohli can achieve unless the second half of his Test career mirrors the first half or his high conversion rate normalises somewhat. I don’t see any other player from the current generation overhauling the record. It is a one-horse race - the question is whether the horse can reach the finishing line.
The Final Word
If this piece had been about the best ever in the game, then it would have been easier to settle the debate. Bradman rules in Tests and Richards rules in ODIs; both were light years ahead of the 2nd best of their respective generations. But this was more about putting Kohli’s numbers into perspective in the modern context.
So, is he the modern master? Yes, definitely. Is he an all-time great? Yes, he is on the list but not at the top. And talking about the list, I would like to explore the most interesting bit as a fan, viz, the position of Kohli relative to Tendulkar.
Well, here I go. Tendulkar played in an era of McGrath, Akram and Walsh (to name a few) whereas Kohli is playing in an era where bowlers are being hammered left, right and centre. In the current generation, Steyn and Anderson are the only bowlers who match up to the legendary pacers. Memories of how Anderson dominated Kohli merely four years ago are still fresh in my mind.
On the other hand, throughout his career, Tendulkar never allowed a bowler to get under his skin. Sachin played his first Test match on Indian soil three years after making his debut against Pakistan. In those three years, he had proved his mettle by scoring centuries on foreign soil, in England, South Africa and Australia and compiling some impressive knocks against Pakistan and New Zealand.
On the contrary, Kohli’s Test career can be termed as good at best and a pale shadow of Tendulkar’s. Sachin was a more balanced cricketer in terms of technique and performance in all formats of the game. Kohli has a few chinks in his offside play and definitely has some catching up to do in Test cricket. But then, that’s my personal opinion and any counterviews are more than welcome.
Disclaimer: All stats compiled before India-Australia ODI series