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Can Virat Kohli overturn his form and catch up with Sachin Tendulkar’s records?

by Sarah Waris 3 minute read

Virat Kohli is in the midst of a run-drought but can he overturn his rhythm and break Sachin Tendulkar’s records?

Back in 2019, when Virat Kohli cruised to his 70th international hundred – a routine 136 in a Test against Bangladesh, in case you had forgotten – all manner of records seemed to be his for the taking. Having just turned 31, seemingly in his prime, and with 36 tons having been notched in his past four years in international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar’s tally of 100 international hundreds seemed to be there for the taking, with plenty of other landmarks in his grasp too.

What has happened since needs little retelling. Kohli remains parked on 70 India centuries, with his form having tailed off dramatically. And yet, with the downturn having been so sudden, an equally abrupt upturn can’t be discounted. Should Kohli reattain somewhere near his best form, has his 30-month lean patch eliminated any possibility of catching Sachin? Or could he still break the Little Master’s many records?

Where Virat Kohli stands

After 101 Tests and 171 innings, Kohli stands at 8,043 runs at an average of 49.95 with the help of 27 hundreds and 28 fifties. Without a single hundred in international cricket since November 2019, Kohli’s Test average recently dipped below 50 – for the first time since 2017.

Kohli is already the sixth-highest run-scorer for India in Test cricket and needs another 739 runs to become the fourth-highest run-getter from the country. 1,953 runs short of 10,000 runs, he could also get close to Tendulkar’s record tally of 15,921 runs, which the Master Blaster made in 200 Test matches.

Currently, Kohli needs 24 more hundreds to equal Tendulkar’s record of 51 centuries in the format. Kohli scored his maiden Test ton in 2012 and scored at least two hundreds a year till 2019, including making 20 centuries combined between 2014 and 2018. The lull, though, has made it tougher for him to surpass Tendulkar.

What Kohli needs to do to break Tendulkar’s run-tally

Kohli has scored a little over 8,000 Test runs in 171 innings and needs 7,879 runs more to become the leading run-getter in the format. If he scores those runs at his current average of 49.95, he can achieve the feat in 158 innings, or approximately 79 Test matches, if he bats twice every Test match. Kohli has played an average of 15.5 innings per year since his debut ( in 11 years) and would need a little more than ten years more to play the required 158 innings if he continues to bat in 15 innings a year. Kohli would be 43 years of age by then.

The number of innings required to achieve the landmark would, however, be fewer if Kohli can leave his dismal form behind and attain the peak form that saw him score more than 1,000 runs every calendar year from 2016 to 2018.

In the three years from 2016 to 2018, Kohli averaged 66.59 in 58 innings, scoring 3,596 runs with 14 hundreds. If he is able to sustain this consistency, he can go on to break Tendulkar’s run record in 118 innings, or 59 Tests, if he bats twice in all matches. If he plays 15 innings a year, he would need eight years to complete 118 innings, and can then surpass Tendulkar, if his average never falls below 66.59.

At exactly 171 innings, Tendulkar had scored 8,826 runs with the help of 31 hundreds. Though he had made just over 700 runs more than Kohli after playing the same number of matches, what worked in his favour, and helped him to cross the 15,000-run barrier in Test eventually was how early the Mumbaikar started playing Test matches. Tendulkar played his 171st Test innings when he was 30 years of age, while Kohli is three years elder after the same number of innings, which would mean that Kohli has to play well into his forties if he wants to overhaul Tendulkar’s records. A long shot, then.

What Kohli needs to do to break Tendulkar’s record of 51 Test hundreds

Kohli currently needs 25 more Test hundreds to overtake Tendulkar, and while it seems a big ask, considering he is 33, it is not impossible. In 2017 and 2018, Kohli scored five hundreds apiece, the most that he has made in a calendar year. From 2016 to 2019, the batter smashed 16 centuries and he could go on to achieve the landmark of 51 Test tons in another five years if he can replicate his best performance in a calendar year. Kohli is at the peak of his fitness, and assuming he could play till then is not a hyperbole.

Tendulkar after 171 innings had 31 hundreds, something that Kohli could have levelled or even surpassed if not for the slump since 2019. In 25 years of playing Tests, Tendulkar scored five or more hundreds only twice and two or fewer centuries in a calendar year on 16 occasions. His early induction into the national team meant that he could go seven calendar years without a single ton but still end up on 51 Test centuries, something that Kohli does not have the liberty to do courtesy of starting later.

Since his debut, Kohli has gone without a hundred in three calendar years (excluding 2022) but has been prolific otherwise, making three or more centuries in five calendar years. Tendulkar’s longevity and early debut worked in his favour, but if Kohli can return to his best, the record could be under threat.

In his first eight years of Test cricket, Kohli raced to 27 Test hundreds, scoring 3.38 centuries on average every calendar year. If he had continued in the same vein after 2019, he would have made approximately 32 centuries by April 2022, needing another 20 to break Tendulkar’s feat.

But that remains a case of what-ifs. Kohli has made 27 hundreds in 11 years of Test cricket, scoring two hundreds every year on average. If he can score at least two centuries every year, he will need 12.5 more years to score the remaining 25 hundreds that would help him overtake Tendulkar’s record of 51 Test tons. If Kohli is able to replicate his peak form from 2016 to 2018 yet again, a period where he made 14 hundreds in three years, he would need a little over five years to make 52 Test tons.

Kohli might find it tough to overhaul Tendulkar’s ODI run tally as well. The latter ended his career with 18,426 runs, and Kohli is 6,115 runs behind. If Kohli continues scoring at his current ODI average of 58.07, he would need another 106 innings to break the feat. Kohli has played an average of 18 ODI innings a year, and he would be able to play 106 innings after approximately six years.

Kohli, though, would fancy breaking Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI hundreds – he has 43 to his name and is just seven short of surpassing the 49-year-old. Kohli has made six hundreds twice in a calendar year, and would not need something drastic to get to the feat.

The record of 100 international hundreds is perhaps Tendulkar’s most famous, and Kohli has an outside chance of breaking that. Kohli made 36 hundreds in four years before his lean stretch, a feat which, if repeated, would see him zoom past Tendulkar.

However, it’s not as easy as it appears. Kohli’s returns have been poor, to say the least, with former India head coach Ravi Shastri suggesting that the right-hander is in desperate need of a break. Even if he were to take time off, there is no guarantee that he would be at his very best once he returns to the game.

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