March 3, 2022: As Virat Kohli plays his 100th Test at Mohali on Friday my mind goes back 54 years to the first cricketer to figure in 100 Tests. Ooty born Colin Cowdrey created history against Australia at Birmingham in July 1968 by becoming the first to reach the landmark and it created quite a buzz. After all it was the first time in 91 years of Test cricket that someone had played as many Tests. The record had been held by another Englishman wicket keeper Godfrey Events who had played 91 Tests. Cowdrey who was captaining England celebrated in right royal style by scoring 104 even as the rain-ruined game was drawn. During the course of his innings, he also became only the second batsman after Wally Hammond to score 7000 runs in Test cricket. It was not all smooth sailing for Cowdrey though for at 58 he pulled a muscle in his left leg and had Geoff Boycott as a runner for the remainder of his innings. The injury also saw him miss the next Test.
With the proliferation of Test matches it was only a matter of time before others joined Cowdrey in the 100-Test club and indeed Kohli will become the 71st cricketer to figure in as many matches., He will also be the 12th Indian to play 100 Tests following the likes of (in chronological order) Sunil Gavaskar, Diliip Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma. It is without doubt a feather in Kohli’s already well decorated cap and at 33 he still has a lot of cricket in him and one can safely predict many more Tests ahead for him.
This despite Kohli being under the scanner of late as the runs have dried up. For example, in his last nine Tests he has scored but 472 runs at an average of 29.50 with a highest score of 79. This does not compare favourably with his career average of 50.39. Indeed, not too long ago his career average was 55. His last Test century was notched up against Bangladesh in November 2019. Since then he has got but six half centuries in 27 innings which does not befit a batsman of his outstanding skills and memorable achievements. After all he has got 27 hundreds in 99 matches with seven double hundreds. He has excelled against all opposition and in all countries. He is physically and mentally very strong, a superb stroke player and acknowledged as the best batsman in the world across the three formats. In Tests he is right up there with the likes of Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.
Clearly then Kohli is too good a player to endure a mediocre run for an extended period. Yes, this has been a fairly long unproductive phase when he has been short of runs and not playing up to his exalted status. But with a player of his class, skill and experience one always has this gut feeling that a big one is around the corner. Perhaps a fitting occasion like playing in his 100th Test could goad Kohli to come out of this trough. Relieved of the captaincy duties he can now concentrate on his batting and come up with the kind of several astonishing run of high scores he has enjoyed in his illustrious career – most encouragingly three successive hundreds including two successive double centuries against Sri Lanka in 2017.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)