Rupin Kale analyses the role-reversal that now sees Virat Kohli clock up fifties and Joe Root hundreds.
After a rare defeat at home in the first Test against England, India bounced back grandly to level the series with a record win in Chennai. The hosts produced a near-perfect performance, outplaying Joe Root’s side in all three aspects of the game. There was, however, a slight concern.
The 62 scored by Virat Kohli on day four on a pitch that was deemed unplayable by many was more valuable than a few of his hundreds. Why though, was it not a hundred? In the Indian skipper’s glorious career so far, he’s built a reputation of consistently scoring hundreds. Big, match-winning hundreds. He has a phenomenal conversion rate in the longest format, where he has 27 centuries and 25 half-centuries. This stat, however, was even more impressive before 2020: on December 31 2019, Kohli had 22 Test fifties and 27 hundreds. Since then, he hasn’t reached triple figures in the format.
Since January 2020, Kohli has 987 runs in 24 innings in international cricket, with nine fifties to his name. For most players, those numbers are promising. For Kohli’s high standards though, they’re worrying.
One other world-class player, a member of the ‘Big Four’, went through a similar patch back in 2017-18. It was Root, who is probably in the best form of his life right now. Have the two skippers swapped places as batsmen? Let’s dig deeper.
Virat Kohli v Joe Root: Recent form
While Kohli has made a couple of important fifties for India in their last two series, he has been unable to assert his authority on a game like usual. He did not have an international century to his name last year, for the first time since his debut year of 2008. While the fewer number of games due to COVID-19 was a factor, his average in Tests was the lowest it has ever been in a year and the fifth-lowest in ODIs.
Root, on the other hand, has flourished like never before. The England skipper is miles ahead of everyone else in 2021, slamming 723 runs in just four Tests at an average upwards of 90. He has three hundreds, including two doubles, to his name this year. He has no half-centuries so far.
Virat Kohli and Joe Root’s swapped fortunes
Virat Kohli in all formats since December 2019: 12 fifties without a hundred
Joe Root in all formats from September 2017 to February 2018: 12 fifties without a hundred
Kohli’s last triple-figure score in international cricket came back in November 2019, in the second Test against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens. Following that knock, he averaged one hundred every 6.25 international innings.
The funny thing about a half-century is that it’s accepted as success on a broad batting spectrum, but too many of them can switch the narrative in the opposite direction. It then becomes a failure of converting the double figures into triple digits, good knocks into great ones. While Kohli had mastered that art early in his career, he now seems to have lost the key to the door.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) December 19, 2020
Root faced a similar problem early into his captaincy. In an eerie coincidence, the last century for both players before their string of 12 fifties was a 136-run knock. The issue for Root was so severe that he had three times more fifties than hundreds by the end of 2018.
However, Root has turned it around spectacularly now. His last three fifty-plus scores have translated into 150-plus scores, with his latest half-century the unbeaten 68 he made against West Indies in Manchester last summer.
Have the pressures of captaincy finally caught up with Virat Kohli?
Ever since Kohli took over the Test captaincy from MS Dhoni in 2014, his batting form has been on an upward graph. He hit the ground running as a leader, becoming the first player to score centuries in each of his first three Test innings as captain. The right-hander was ICC’s Cricketer of the Decade for the 2010s, with him topping almost every batting chart in the awards period.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) December 28, 2020
When India climbed to the top of the ICC Test Rankings and recorded an unbeaten run at home, Kohli’s contributions towered over everyone else’s. When his team have failed under him in the recent past, however, he’s suffered alongside them. Since January 2019, Kohli averages 33.32 as a skipper in international losses, with just one hundred and seven fifties in 26 innings. Before then, he averaged 46.05 in losses as captain. The pressure that Root felt at the start of his captaincy may have finally caught up with Kohli. However, as a person who thrives under the spotlight more often than not, he may find a way out of it quicker.
He has a chance under floodlights soon…
Kohli’s last international century came in a day-night Test. With the next pink-ball encounter fast approaching against England in Ahmedabad, this may be his opportunity to set the record straight. The ODI master within him will relish the challenge of a day-night battle, while the showman in him will yearn to perform in the first international game at the biggest cricket stadium in the world.