Ben Jones looks at why the Indian captain has such an ability to double up.
Virat Kohli is a double-century making machine. In the last Test against South Africa in Pune, the Indian captain built a near flawless 254* (336) to anchor the first innings, as the hosts progressed to a near insurmountable 601-5d. It was, remarkably, the seventh time that Kohli has passed 200 in a Test match – his ability to cash in once set almost unparalleled around the world.
It isn’t an uncommon sight now, Kohli raising his bat for the fourth time in an innings. He now has more double-tons than Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, and Javed Miandad, among plenty of other historic, celebrated players. Only three men in the history of Test cricket have made more double-centuries: Donald Bradman, Kumar Sangakkara and Brian Lara.
Some might look at this and think that Kohli has been boosted by the sheer volume of cricket this modern Indian side play, but that would be doing him a disservice. 27% of Kohli’s Test centuries have been converted into doubles, which is the fourth best conversion rate in Test history, if you consider the players with at least 20 tons at that level. Of that crop, only three players (Bradman, Sangakkara and Wally Hammond) have turned a higher proportion of their centuries into double-tons.
So why does Kohli have such an ability to convert his centuries into double-centuries?
Well, on one level we do have to check the achievement somewhat. All but one of his seven doubles were made in India, the sole outlier his first ever double, 200 (283) against the West Indies in Antigua. In and of itself, that is not a dampener – the overwhelming majority of players are better in home conditions – but the fact that his home conditions are naturally suited to converting centuries into double centuries does have to be taken into consideration. Since 2000, 14.3% of individual Test centuries in India have gone on to be converted into double-centuries; the only country in the world to have a higher conversion percentage is Pakistan.
So, Kohli’s home conditions do contribute to his excellence in making double centuries, but it would be unrepresentative to place too much onus purely on that. The main contributor, ultimately, is Kohli himself.
There are a few notable patterns in the way Kohli constructs Test innings which seem to inherently lend themselves to posting big, big scores. Throughout his innings, his level of risk doesn’t really seem to change. He starts out secure, then continues to bat with the same false shot percentage for the next 250 runs, if you give him the chance. You might expect some players to have a more pronounced period of “getting in”, and thus a higher false shot percentage in the first 25 runs; you could equally expect some players to see their risk increase as fatigue really starts to set in. For Kohli, neither is true. He just bats.
Well, that’s not quite true. Whilst he bats with the same exemplary execution whether he’s on 19 or 190, the actual nature of the method he’s executing does change. It changes quite a lot. Just as the ODI Kohli is the master of pressing the accelerator with ever greater intensity, the red ball batsman is clear in how he wants to increase his scoring intent as the innings progresses. Again, this isn’t atypical, but the precision with which Kohli appears to go through the gears, all the way through to attacking one-in-two deliveries when he’s passed the 200 mark, is outstanding.
In essence, these two aspects of Kohli’s batting are the base of why he converts so many of his centuries into doubles. He is able to attack more and more the longer he’s at the crease, but without increasing his risk whilst doing so. That is a potent duo.
There are other, less easily calculated factors which do come into this. Often, well-set batsmen on 160* are forced to hit out with undue care or control because the team situation requires it, captains worried about leaving enough time for their attack to bowl the opposition out. Kohli in India rarely has this problem, not as captain or batsman. Such has been the supremacy of India’s attack in home Tests (since England’s victory there in 2012) that whenever the opportunity has been there for the batsmen to just mercilessly pile on the first-innings hurt, they have been able to take it without serious concerns over time pressure.
And equally, the most incalculable element of this whole thing, is the effect that the batsman’s identity has, on the bowlers, the fielders, the opposition captain. If making double-centuries is a process of slowly, methodically, seeing off every one of the opposition’s threats, then grinding away at their mental strength before a ball has even been bowled has to play a role. In red ball cricket Kohli may not have quite the same indomitable aura as Steve Smith, but he is not far off – particularly in home conditions. To have broken the spirit of the bowlers purely through reputation, is always going to have an effect, albeit an intangible one.
Ultimately, Kohli’s mastery of the double-ton is simply reflective of the fact he is a very, very good Test batsman. There are stylistic and contextual elements to consider, but ultimately, if you make seven double-centuries in Test cricket then you transcend style and context. You are, quite straightforwardly, one of the greats.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.