Analysing the legitimacy of concerns over Virat Kohli's form and legacy

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Virat Kohli set the bar too high early on in his career for his own good, failing to scale the same heights of late. However, whether his slump an ordinary drop as is the case for most sportsmen or is it one that will hurt his legacy to no ends, is the question this article aims to answer.

For a moment, imagine you are back in 2019. It has been a stressful day and you switch on the television to see Virat Kohli batting on 50 off some 60-odd balls. You quietly smile to yourself, knowing what is about to come; the perfect storm of cricket’s most aesthetic shots hit with immense power and yet dripping with royal grace. Now imagine a random dude telling you that in three years’ time, hugs would be a thing of the past, face masks will move from cosplay to the daily essentials section and Virat Kohli would be dropped from the Indian team due to one dismal performance after another. 

Well, cast your mind back to 2022, because all of those things are true. The bizarreness of today’s times makes me believe at some point in time we slipped into an alternate timeline, or at the very least Virat Kohli did. At this point, the only things which seem inevitable in life are death, taxes, and weekly reminders by the press that Virat Kohli has not scored an international century since November 2019. I am sure by now you are tired of couch pundits analysing Kohli’s technique, the media’s wild speculations about his personal life, and experts telling you the Delhite is the most privileged cricketer to still be playing for India. So let’s focus on something different today, let’s talk about perspective and legacy.

All the discussions around Kohli's lack of runs ultimately beg the question, is this lean patch in Kohli’s career just a slump or an indication that his time at the elite level is well and truly over? Is Kohli a victim of his own standards, or does he genuinely have a terrible track record such that he no longer deserves to be hailed as the messiah of Indian cricket? What about his legacy then, has this downturn skewed our perception because of recency bias, and will it carry over when we talk about him in the future? Well, let’s dive into the number of some of the greatest to have played the game and track down their career trajectory to see how it aligns with Virat  Kohli’s graph.

No better place to start than the little master himself, Sachin Tendulkar. Firstly, there were only two years in which the great did not score a century in international cricket throughout his 24-year career– his debut year in 1989 and then in 1991. Moreover, since Sachin scored his first ODI century in 1994, not a year went by till his retirement in 2012 in which he did not register at least one hundred in the 50-over format. In the same time frame, only once did his ODI average in a year fall below 30. The years 2005 and 2006 were the batsman’s worst slump in form, but the maestro still managed to accumulate over 1,700 runs in international cricket averaging a decent 35. This is barring his twilight years of 2012 and 2013, where a nearly 40-year-old Tendulkar was still somehow scoring runs at an okayish rate by most standards.


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Now let’s move on to Australian legend Ricky Ponting. Since 1996, only twice in 16 years of Test cricket did his annual average fall below 35. In 1998, when he belted nearly 1,200 runs in ODIs across 24 innings at a stunning average of 53, and in his penultimate year of playing in 2011, in which he averaged over 40 in ODIs across 15-plus innings. His biggest struggle in terms of centuries came in 2004 as he managed no hundreds across 34 matches in red and white ball cricket, but still averaged an overall 39.41 with 12 half-centuries. Throughout his career there were no marked slums, simply very temporary drops not even lasting a year. 

For a fairer comparison, let’s finally take a present-era cricketer as a data sample in the form of Joe Root. The former England skipper simply has exemplary numbers in Tests, with his lowest average in a calendar year being a respectable 37 in 2019. In fact, 2020 was the only year after his debut year in which Root did not score a Test hundred and it could be termed as his worst year on the international stage so far. Across 18 innings in Tests and ODIs, he could only rack up 570 runs at an average of 35.63. That was the beginning of his decline in white-ball cricket and it has only steepened ever since but at the same time, 2021 and 2022 were the top-order batter’s most prolific years against the red-ball. Thus, the downward spiral in ODIs merely seems a question of match practice and preference rather than poor form at large.

Now to put all of that into context, let’s visit Virat Kohli’s numbers. In the years 2020 and 2021, which we’ll take to be the starting point of his rough patch given he went from averaging nearly six centuries a year to not being able to score even one, Kohli only managed 1,212 runs in Tests and ODIs at a dismal average of 32.75 by his standards. Previously, the batman’s worst average in Tests in a calendar year was 42.66 barring his debut year. In 2020 and 2021, the Delhite’s Test average read 19.33 and 28.21 respectively. Things have become worse in 2022,  with his run tally only reading 476 in 19 innings across all formats at an average of 25. Not only is that hideous by Kohli’s standards but also unacceptable for any player heralded as the keystone of a national team like India.

What exacerbates these statistics, even more, are his ungodly returns in the three immediately preceding years. In 2017, ‘18 and ‘19, Kohli racked up over 1,000 runs each year in ODIs alone, with his average across Tests and ODIs an astronomical 71.75. Another indicator of his downfall is the IPL numbers. Since 2012, Kohli had never had a strike rate below 120 until 2021, and then again in 2022. His average across these two years in the league? 25.72.

To conclude, Virat Kohli is fast losing grip over his stake on the title of the greatest batsman to have played the game from a numbers point of view. None of the other contenders for that bold honour has had anywhere close to a slump like Kohli’s, never mind the fact being publicly discussed as often. The fact that he still has the most 50s in international cricket since November 2019 barring Babar Azam is no consolation given the potential limits of the great talent he possesses. The trajectory of worrying over Virat Kohli’s form went quickly from him not being able to convert his runs to a century, to the overall lack of runs across all forms of cricket.

As for the question of legacy, however, Virat’s legend extends way beyond the data sheets. He has gifted India and his fans innumerable god-like displays which will go down in history as some of the greatest knocks in cricket. Be it his centuries in England, his 183 against Pakistan, the blitz against Sri Lanka in Australia where he hit Lasith Malinga for four consecutive boundaries or the miraculous IPL 2016 season. However, the fall from grace of the 33-year-old will definitely leave a sour taste whenever his name comes up in the future and a question of what-if shall forever haunt him if he does not pick up his form soon. For the moment, the man definitely deserves time in the Indian set-up to bring himself back to form for at the end of the day, class is permanent and 20,000 international runs are no fluke. Unfortunately, such rhetorics can defend him only for so long and unless flavours of the old Virat are renewed where he let his bat do the talking, we might have already witnessed the end of an era before we even realize it.

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