After scoring his 20th One-Day hundred against West Indies at Dharamshala, Virat Kohli has booked a place in the pantheon of batting greats. Only Sachin Tendulkar (49 in 452 innings), Ricky Ponting (30 in 365), Sanath Jayasuriya (28 in 433), Sourav Ganguly (in 22 in 300), Herschelle Gibbs (21 in 240) and Chris Gayle (21 in 253) are ahead in terms of raking up centuries. Now the question is, when will he overtake the great Tendulkar? And it's only a matter of time, as one would surmise, before he becomes the batsman with most centuries.
In recent months, starting with the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, the 25-year-old had his most challenging time as a professional player. It was followed by a forgettable tour of England, wherein he scored in a series of 0, 40, 1 and 13 against the hosts. Disappointment was written large all over. And questions started pouring in from all corners, has Virat finally lost his touch! But everyone knew, and were quietly confident that once he returned home, he will soon score runs.
That's exactly what happened. After scoring two runs in the first match against the touring West Indies side, he applied himself to score a patient 62 in Delhi. Like on so many other previous occasions, his contribution once again helped India win a match, thus cooling other-wise frayed nerves in the Indian ranks. With the third ODI abandoned due to cyclone Hudhud, he lost the chance to build on the momentum. But at Dharamshala, he played a crucial innings and scored a century after long time. Eight innings have lapsed without him scoring a century. For many, it's a big gap.
Now, with 20 centuries, and in the cusp of greatness, he can focus on the good things. With a long playing career ahead of him, he can hope to score more runs and create new records. Talking about records, he is the fastest to reach 20 centuries, in 133 innings. South African Hashim Amla is the only contemporary batsman who could equal or improve on Kohli's record. The South African has 15 centuries to his credit from 92 innings. Here, what augurs well for the Indian star is that, age is on his side. He is only 25 and has already become one of the most celebrated players of modern times.
Since scoring his first century as a 21-year-old in 2008 against Sri Lanka at Dambulla, Virat has become the fulcrum of Indian batting with his consistent performances. The cricketing world was habituated up to an extent that when he failed to rake up a century in eight innings, the order seemed to have changed. And it looked justified to ask for more from him. In his career, the Delhi-lad has scored three back-to-back centuries, replete with two back-to-back fifties.
With an average of 50+, he is certainly consistency personified. His runs per innings is a shade under Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 52.85 average for a batsman with more than 5000 runs in this format of the game. For a top-order batsman, scoring a fifty every time he gets out to bat is indeed legendary stuff. What made his achievement even more respectable is the level of competitiveness in today's game.
Having scored 20 centuries in six years of international cricket, Virat can certainly score an equal number of tons in the next 10 years of his playing career. It's highly likely that the right-hander can carry on playing for more than a decade at the highest level. Considering his rate of conversion, and the frequency at which he is raking up centuries, it is also safe to assume that when he finally retires, he will become one of the batting greats, if not the greatest.
With Sri Lanka coming to fill-up West Indies' premature exit, Virat can increase his century count before Team India heads for Australia. According to the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI), Sri Lanka will play five ODI matches in India. This is a good proposition for Virat, because the Lankan Lions have been his favourite opponent. He has scored five centuries against islanders.
Then, he will feature prominently as India defend the World Cup title in Australia and New Zealand, after a sumptuous tri-series involving hosts Aussies and England.