Virat Kohli will continue to score hundreds in defeats. It is a cross that the batting greats have to bear because they are good enough to make runs when the rest of the side collapses…..
Among the many, many gems Virat Kohli has crafted on the batting crease, that 123 in the first innings at Perth was, by many accounts, the most brilliant of them all. It was near perfect, the way he worked on the excellent bowling in those toughest of conditions and sculpted a masterpiece.
Even the number 123 itself seems to denote perfection of natural order.
And unfortunately, as the Test match came to an end, the knock ended up as one of the major performances that could not quite tilt the balance India’s way in the final analysis.
When one produces one of the 22 distinct individual performances in a match, it is often the case. One brilliant effort does not necessarily outweigh 21 others. That is often both realistically and mathematically impossible. Cricket is such a sport, a sum-total of individual efforts masquerading as a team game. And thereby arises all the superficial analysis that centre around ‘match-winners’.
But that is the cross that many a great batsman has to bear. Especially when part of a not-so-great batting unit.
Winning matches generally mean conditions are favourable for the side. Runs, or centuries, obtained in victories are no doubt very important but are generally essayed when the side has the upper hand for most of the game.
However, when most of the others fail, the conditions are obviously difficult for the side. The curse of greatness is that you tend to perform rather frequently even in such circumstances because you are that good. And since most of the others fail in a team game, your performance stands out in the ruins and chances are that your efforts will end up in a losing cause.
So Virat Kohli has to live with that. He has played 75 Tests and hammered 25 centuries. One in every 3 Tests. That is phenomenal by any standard.
India have won 36 and lost 22 of the Tests he has played in. The problem is that he performs even in matches where the rest struggle and India loses. Hence he has 7 hundreds in losing causes, in those 22 Tests. Be it his first, the 116 at Adelaide in 2011-12, the famous twin tons at Adelaide in 2014-15, the lone battle amounting to 153 at Centurion, the magnificent 149 at Edgbaston, they have been uniformly supreme knocks.
Only the rest of the team did not really rise to those occasions. He has tried to bridge the gap between the rest of India and the sum-total of the opposition, on occasions he has come close. These 7 gems did not quite manage to do that.
It will continue to happen. He is that good a player. He will continue to be the lone crusader when chips are down, when no one else is performing. He will end up getting hundreds in defeats.
Kohli averages 38.61 in losing causes. That is the highest among Indians with more than 1000 runs in losses. The man in the second position should not come as a surprise. Sachin Tendulkar averaged 37.16 and scored 11 of his 51 hundreds in lost Test matches. Remember the ‘Sachin scores century and India loses’ inanity? That is because it requires a bit more than lazy conclusions and overcoming arm-chair disappointment to realise that scoring in defeats often means being a lone crusader against all odds.
Some of Tendulkar’s best efforts were in lost Test matches, because no one else stood up. For example when he came in at 6/2 and left at 254/7 after scoring 136 impeccable runs. India stumbled to 258 all out, in quest of 271 against Pakistan at Chennai. Or the 122 at Birmingham, 1996, when the next highest was 18. Or the two hands of 116 and 52 at Melbourne, 1999, with 31 being the top score managed by 20 other individual Indian innings in the Test. Or the 97 at Mumbai against South Africa. Examples are aplenty. The rest of the batting was not good enough to put up a challenging score on the board. And the bowling was not really of the same standard as the attacks of the opposition.
As I said, it is the cross the best have to carry.
Andy Flower habitually played for a losing side. 7 of his 12 hundreds came in lost Test matches. Be it the 113 unbeaten runs at Trinidad or the 142 and unbeaten 199 at Harare against South Africa, they were some of the most magnificent batting witnessed under pressure.
Brian Lara scored 14 of his 34 hundreds in defeats. Be it the 182 at Adelaide or 226 at the same ground or that unbelievable double of 221 and 130 at Colombo against a rampaging Muttiah Muralitharan, they were supreme innings. The problem was that no other batsman of the side could match his brilliance and put sufficient runs on the board. Often the bowling of his side was far weaker than the attack fielded by the opposition.
Some of the best knocks of superb batsmen, from Allan Border to Clyde Walcott, from Kumar Sangakkara to Jack Hobbs, have come in Test matches that their teams have gone on to lose.
From the bat-carrying unbeaten 202 by Len Hutton against Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine at The Oval, to Denis Compton’s extraordinary 184 against Keith Miller, Bill Johnston and Ernie Toshack at Nottingham, from Nathan Astle’s spellbinding 222 at Christchurch against England to Graeme Pollock’s 209-run glittering gem at Cape Town against Australia, examples are aplenty.
Often they were the best ever innings these great men played in their careers.
Kohli currently has 11 hundreds in victories, 7 in defeats.
By the time his fascinating career draws to a close, my wager is that he will have plenty more in both categories. He is a superb enough batsman to take the slightest advantage in the equation and propel it to victories for the side. He is also better than the rest of the side, and hence will continue to essay magical knocks even when the rest of the side fails and will end up with several more hundreds in capitulating defeats. Unless India do discover a cohort of batsmen of similar brilliance. That is, indeed, a tough ask.
As already mentioned, that is a cross of greatness he has to bear.