Has Kohli got his groove back?


No one in the game’s modern history comes close to matching the consistency that Kohli showed across formats between 2016 and 2019. But will his recent white-ball revival act as a spur for his Test career, especially with a pivotal series against Australia on the horizon?



So, has Virat Kohli got his groove back? The recent evidence is promising. After a star turn at the T20 World Cup, where his four half-centuries played a pivotal role in taking India to the semifinals, Kohli has now scored a century in three of his last four ODIs. That streak culminated in the blistering 110-ball 166* in Thiruvananthapuram that helped send Sri Lanka to a record defeat as India wrapped up the series 3-0.


But there remains a big blot on this canvas. With a crucial Test series against Australia looming on the horizon – India will likely need to win three of the four matches to seal a place in the World Test Championship final at The Oval, against Australia in June – Kohli’s performances in the red-ball format remain a cause for concern. The last of his 27 Test tons came in November 2019, and he has averaged 26.20 in 20 Tests since. In his most recent outing, two Tests in Bangladesh, he managed just 45 runs in four innings. There has been just one 50-plus score in his last 16 visits to the crease.


In a sense, Kohli’s struggles and how we perceived them are a reflection of the incredibly high standards he set for himself. Several batsmen in the game’s history have enjoyed wonder years, and many more have had purple patches where it seemed they could do little wrong. Kohli didn’t have a purple patch. He built a purple wall across a four-year period from 2016 to 2019.


His numbers during that time are mind-boggling. Across formats, Kohli made 10,603 runs in those four years. He made 36 hundreds, with 16 of them coming in Tests (43 matches) and 20 in ODIs (75 innings). He averaged 66.69 in Tests, 80.98 in ODIs and 59.88 in T20Is. In three consecutive years (2016-18), he topped 2,500 runs across formats. In 2019, he fell just 45 runs short.


Let’s put those figures into some perspective. No one else has made 2,500 or more runs in a year thrice in their careers. Only the great Sachin Tendulkar, with 12 hundreds in 1998, has more three-figure knocks in a year than the 11 that Kohli managed in both 2017 and 2018. And of the 15 occasions when an individual has crossed 2,500 runs for the year, no one else comes even remotely close to Kohli’s average of 86.50 in 2016. Next on the list with an average of 68.73? Kohli in 2017.


Remember too that figure of 36 hundreds. Joe Root has 44 international tons in a career that began in 2012. Steve Smith has 42 in nearly 13 years of playing. Kane Williamson has been around as long, and he has 38 hundreds. What Kohli did in those four years doesn’t just defy description. It’s probably also safe to say that we’ll never see such consistency again.


But as we await the titanic clash with Australia, the question repeats itself: Can Kohli revive his stalling Test career? He could do worse than to take inspiration from his biggest hero, Tendulkar. In 2006, the master had one of the worst phases of his career, prompting “Endulkar” headlines in an Indian newspaper. Either side of shoulder surgery, he scored just 267 runs in eight Tests, averaging 24.27.


Then came the World Cup debacle in the Caribbean. Soon after, he turned 34. In the four years that followed, Tendulkar scored 16 of his 51 Test centuries, including an incredible seven in 2010, when he aggregated 1,562 runs. Kohli turned 34 last November, and there are no questions marks whatsoever about his fitness, or continued hunger to excel.


Australia, however, are the trickiest possible opponents. Kohli the Test batsman has enjoyed tremendous success in Australia, with only Sir Jack Hobbs (9) and Walter Hammond (7) topping his tally of 6 centuries there. It’s a different story on home turf though. In seven tests against Australia in India, Kohli has crossed 50 just twice. You have to go back nearly a decade, to February 2013 in Chennai, for his only hundred.


The last time Australia toured, nearly six years ago, Kohli aggregated a miserable 45 runs in five innings, making the headlines more for his aggressive antics on the field and remarks off it. injured for the decisive fourth Test in Dharamsala, it was Ajinkya Rahane that captained India to a series victory.



Even with Mitchell Starc set to miss the opening Test, Australia’s bowling attack, led by the peerless Pat Cummins, will ask plenty of questions of Kohli. Nathan Lyon and other Australian spinners, notably Steve O’Keefe in 2017, have also enjoyed bowling to him in India. Back in 2017, it was hard to escape the notion that Kohli let his ego be part of the on-field contest. He’s a noticeably calmer individual now, but the Australians will certainly single him out for special attention.


In the past, especially in those halcyon years between 2016 and 2019, Kohli was adept at carrying his form between formats. Over the coming weeks, Indian fans will hope that the recent white-ball resurgence can extend to Test cricket as well. The Kohli of 2016, who ground a lauded English bowling attack into the dust, may be a distant memory, but there are welcome signs that the team’s senior statesman can enjoy a Tendulkar-like Indian summer.

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