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Of Kohli, double centuries, and captaincy

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Virat_Kohli_Test_Cricket_Captain_IndiaI woke up on the morning of the November 26, 2017 in Sweden. While I was having my morning coffee, before I sat down to watch the match, I checked my messages and found one from my friend Pascal (Norway-based) – ‘Kohli got a double hundred, at an impressive strike rate!’

I wished that I had woken up at 5.30 Middle European Standard Time and followed the match, just as I and my brother used to in India, in the 1980s and 1990s, to watch India play Australia (or other countries) at Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, or earlier still against the Kiwis at Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch or Dunedin.

Yes, another ‘Kohli-jap’ you may say. While praying that ‘nazar naa lag jaaye’, and wishing him all the best in his career, I would like to focus on the fact that he has scored all his double hundreds while skippering the side: in 31 out of the 62 Test matches he has played thus far. He equaled Brian Lara’s record of 5 double hundreds as skipper, proving conclusively that leadership & captaincy need not eat into one’s performance as a batsman, bowler or allrounder.

Of course, there have been many others who have demonstrated heightened application to the tasks at hand – with bat, ball or both – while leading their sides. And there are some who currently do so – take Steve Smith of Australia for instance, whose career as captain and batsman mirrors Kohli’s to a great extent. Matthew Hayden spoke of Kane Williamson too in this regard, from the commentary box at Nagpur, and observed that he has the potential to raise the bar and not be bogged down, as he sometimes tends to be, after taking over the leadership from Brendon McCullum.

When Kohli got out, sending the ball to Thirimanne in the deep, Harsha Bhogle remarked that this was the only mistake in his entire innings – flawless and masterly. The intention, however, was pretty clear and justified. Close to 370 runs ahead, it was time to get more runs on the board and put the Lankans in to bat for the last session, hopefully getting some wickets for added pressure.

 

Back to the double-hundreds he has scored thus far. The first one was an away-affair, exactly 200 runs scored at Antigua. India won this match by an innings and some runs. Then, there was a slump of sorts – Kohli struggled to get to a half-century in half-a-dozen or so innings, before surging again like a Phoenix to score 211 against the Kiwis in a match-winning effort at Indore. Apart from the Kohli double hundred and the Indian victory, there was another common factor to these two matches – Ashwin bagged the Man of the Match award in both cases.

 

But Captain Kohli would get his Man of the Match Award for a Test double hundred soon, his 235 against the English in Mumbai taking India home. The fourth one was against the Bangladeshis in Hyderabad, again a match which India won. So, after West Indies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, it was now the Lankans’ turn to be at the receiving end.

That this match ended in a victory by an innings for India is a double-feather in Kohli’s cap. It is true that he has got 4 of his 5 double hundreds on home soil, but the first one, do not forget, was in Antigua, on a fast ad bouncy wicket. And he could very well have got his first one in Melbourne (during the series in which Dhoni retired), if he had not edged one from Mitchell Johnson when he was on 169. But double hundreds against the Aussies and the South Africans will come very soon. Be sure of that.

 

Kohli has a much-higher batting average as captain than not – the last half of his Test career has seen him scoring at close to 65 runs per innings, vis-à-vis the grand average of a little over 50. A classic case of ‘greater responsibility shouldered responsibly’ and ‘leading from the front with grit and purpose’. A captain who does this certainly inspires his teammates and indirectly helps them improve Test by Test.

 

Talking of double hundreds scored in Tests, Don Bradman has 12, Sangakkara 11, Lara 9, Hammond and Jayawerdene 7, Atapattu, Sehwag, Ponting, Miandad and Tendulkar 6 each. Then come Dravid, Graeme Smith and Kohli with 5 each. Bradman, with 12 double hundreds in just 52 Tests, will continue to be an elusive target to reach, let alone beat. The others, who have scored 5 or more double centuries in their respective careers, took between 85 (Wally Hammond) to 200 (Sachin Tendulkar) Tests to get them.

Kohli, for all that we know, by the time he has played 100 Tests, may have risen up the ranks, and may not be far from the Don. In his next innings, Kohli will also get to the 5000-mark in Tests…and thereafter, the target would be the five-figure aggregate. A healthy contest is on, in this regard, between Kohli and Steve Smith; their Test careers somehow mirroring each other significantly.

Five doubles in 19 three-figure scores is a 26% share; the same as Sehwag’s (he however got two triple hundreds too). Compare this with Tendulkar’s 12%, Dravid’s 14% and Gavaskar’s 10%. The Don ended his career with an ‘untouchable’ 40%.

Kohli has scored more hundreds (including the doubles) than half-centuries, demonstrating a wonderful conversion rate. Not many who have scored over 4000 runs in Tests could match such a statistic.

When Russel Arnold said that it is perfectly fine for a batsman to make good use of the home conditions to amass runs and score double hundreds in the process, he was obviously thinking of Sangakkara, Jayawerdene and Atapattu. Kohli would surely be able to score more doubles on home soil in the future, but he will be eyeing the Wanderers, the Gabba and Lords as his future targets. Vive Virat!

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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