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Will the West Indies tour put Virat Kohli firmly on the road to Test batting greatness?

Despite being one of the best cricketers of this generation, the numbers just don't add up for Virat Kohli in Tests.

Virat Kohli
The next 13 months will play a pivotal role in shaping Virat’s Test career

The wheel of Virat Kohli’s Test career has turned the proverbial full circle. Five years after the dashing Indian right-handed batsman made his debut in the five-day format in Kingston, Jamaica, he is back in the exotic Caribbean Islands, this time as skipper of the Indian Test squad. A four-match Test series between India and the West Indies is slated to kick-off in Antigua on July 21.

This will be the first of 20 Test matches that India are scheduled to play over the next 12 months, with the next away series scheduled for July next year in Sri Lanka. Virat will look to seize this opportunity, especially with the 13 home Tests coming up after this series against a relatively weak and inexperienced West Indies side, to finally establish himself as one of the world’s premier batsmen of his generation in the game’s longest format.

That is not to say that in his 41-Test career so far, he has not done enough already. Since his debut, Virat has been India’s premier Test batsman and eight of his 11 hundreds have come in places like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka with five of them in Australia alone – geographies considered tough to tour and play cricket in.

The first five years of his Test career also coincided with an Indian Test squad in transition and looking to rebuild after the Golden Generation consisting of greats like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Sehwag, Kumble, Bhajji, Zaheer etc. were fading away slowly but surely. Which meant Virat had to endure some tough results like Test series losses in England, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, while at the same time ensure that his performance levels did not dip. This speaks volumes of his mental strength as a batsman and of his hunger to perform.

Be that as it may, given our fetish for numbers, Virat still does not find himself among the top 10 Test batsmen of the world. In the ICC’s latest rankings for Test batsmen, Virat is at number 14 and even Ajinkya Rahane at number 11 is ahead of him. Having been witness to Virat’s competitiveness and hunger for excellence, you can be reasonably sure that this is something Virat would be eager to change. And here is why you cannot blame it on India not having played enough Test matches for Virat to get into the top half of those rankings, as much as he deserves to be there.

Kohli is way behind his competitors

Steve Smith David Warner

Let us compare Virat’s numbers with the top Test batsmen from around the world who we can safely say belong to his generation. The upper end of that band would belong to Australian left-handed opening batsman David Warner who is 29 years of age to Virat’s 27. The other batsmen we can consider are England’s Joe Root (25), Australia’s Steve Smith (27) and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson (25). These are all players who are age-wise within five years of each other, have made their Test debuts in the 2010-11 period and are considered the premier top-order batsmen of their respective teams.

There are some currently playing top batsmen we are not considering for various reasons – Alistair Cook, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plesis because they are a tad senior to these guys and Angelo Mathews because his comparison can only be in a selection of top Test all-rounders given his bowling prowess. Most will agree that for the selected five, bowling is not a serious part of their game.

Among the five, David Warner has played the maximum number of Test matches, having played a total of 51 Tests for Australia since making his debut in 2011. Joe Root has played 42, Kane Williamson 48 while both Smith and Virat have played 41 each. So all five have played more or less the same number of Test matches in more or less the same number of years and Virat’s Test batting average of 44.02 is the lowest among them. The Aussie captain Smith has the highest and is averaging a phenomenal 60 with the bat, Warner is averaging a tad above 50 and Joe Root close to 53. Kane Williamson is very close to that 50 mark (49.23) as well. It is generally believed that a Great Test batsman would over a period of time finish with an average of over 50.

Virat is also the only one among them who is not among the ICC top 10 Test batsmen rankings. Steve Smith is comfortably perched on the top of those rankings while Kane Williamson is number two, Root at number four and David Warner is slotted in at number eight.

Very recently, respected cricket writer Anantha Narayana came up with another measure for Test batting greatness which he termed as Runs per Test (RpT) explaining that this was a more effective statistic to measure Test batting greatness than the hitherto considered batting average. Batsmen like Bradman, Gavaskar, Weekes and Lara found themselves among the top five ever on this measure as well. Among our selected five, Steve Smith has the highest RpT score of 93.95 while his Aussie teammate Warner comes in second with a score or 88.35.  Kane Williamson is third with a RpT score of 84.10 while Joe Root is fourth clocking 83.16 RpT till date. Virat Kohli on the other hand has a RpT score of 73.02, which is way behind his four peers.

If you combine this with the batting average statistic we have already discussed and add the fact that Virat has the lowest number of 50s among the five- it does point a little towards inconsistency which someone of his stature would do well do correct as soon as possible.

It is therefore widely believed that this 12-13 month run of 20 Test matches, will bring about the required course correction and lift Virat to where he belongs- among the top Test batsmen of his generation not only by popular perception but with the help of solid all-round numbers to back him up. 

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