The faintest tickle of the outside edge of the bat (so faint that it wasn’t even captured on the infrared imaging system) ended not just Virat Kohli’s blossoming innings on Wednesday but also a blossoming career-streak. As he returned to the Canberra pavilion, grim-faced at being dismissed for 63 runs, Kohli was in fact walking away from his first calendar year without scoring an ODI century since his debut season.
It, then, took a combination of a pandemic-shortened cricket season and sustained excellence from Australia’s Josh Hazlewood to narrowly stop Kohli from doing what he does best and not extend his streak to a twelfth year. Twice this year Kohli got to a score of 89, in Bengaluru in January and Sydney last week, and on both occasions, it was Hazlewood who stalled him from getting any further. Hazlewood has now dismissed Kohli in every match this series and across four consecutive India-Australia matches over all.
Kohli and India played just nine ODIs in 2020 – six of them against Australia and three in and against New Zealand. He still smacked five half-centuries in that period and averaged 47.9 this year, extraordinary numbers by even the loftiest standard. But because the three-digit score remained elusive, 2020 and 2008 now bracket a most incredible spell of consecutive years in which Kohli often seemed to be notching ODI hundreds for fun.
It was incredible while it lasted. Ever since his first ODI century — struck in India’s final match of 2009 at the Eden Gardens — eased him into the new decade, Kohli simply did not look back. 2010 saw three hundreds, 2011 saw four and 2012 — a watershed year in his career when he scored possibly his greatest ODI hundred in Hobart and followed that up with his biggest ODI hundred in Dhaka, all in the space of twenty days – witnessed five.
In 2016, with the team’s focus on the T20 World Cup at home, Kohli played just one ODI more than he did this year. He still struck three hundreds in 10 matches. But even that isn’t as crazy as 2018, where Kohli collected six ODI hundreds from just 14 ODIs – his second successive year of collecting a half-dozen tons. It wasn’t far from three years in a row; 2019 saw him score five one-day hundreds.
As phenomenal as that run was, Kohli’s 11 straight years isn’t the world record or for that matter, even the Indian one. Both of those are the same man – Sachin Tendulkar. There wasn’t a single year between 1994 (when he struck his maiden short-format ton) and 2012 (when he retired) that did not witness a Tendulkar ODI hundred. That’s 19 years on the bounce.
To put Kohli’s streak (2009-2019) in perspective, it is important to understand that a large tally of hundreds doesn’t guarantee annual consistency with three-figure scores. Ricky Ponting, with 30 ODI hundreds, has a best run of seven years (2005 to 2011) while Brian Lara, once the all-time ODI hundreds leader with 17, could muster only a string of five years (1995-1999).
Among active cricketers, there are only three batsmen who could realistically match Kohli. Rohit Sharma, who struck a hundred against Australia in the Bengaluru game this year now has eight consecutive years with ODI centuries (2013-2020), just as many and in exactly the same years for Australia skipper Aaron Finch, who twice scored hundreds against India in 2020. And if Faf du Plessis manages a hundred in the upcoming ODI series against England, he will extend his run to seven straight years.
But among the retired ones, there is one batsman with as many consecutive years as Kohli and another with one more than Kohli. Neither of them being a hallmark of consistency in the conventional sense. Herschelle Gibbs, incidentally Kohli’s favourite player during his Under-19 days, scored his 21 ODI centuries in a 11-year spell between 1999 and 2009. Each of those years dotted with at least one ton, six of them with precisely one – including in 2006, when his 175 caused the highest and most sensational chase in one-day cricket.
Seated just above Kohli/Gibbs and behind only Tendulkar is New Zealand’s Nathan Astle, who spread his relatively modest set of 16 ODI centuries over 12 back-to-back years of hitting ODI hundreds. Active for all of thirteen years, Astle struck a hundred in all of them bar the final one in 2007, with a single hundred in nine of those years.