Virat Kohli rocked back on his back foot and hooked off-spinner Roston Chase to midwicket for a single. This was his 200th run of the innings at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua. Of course, it had to be this stadium. The West Indian batting legend had met Kohli and his team before the match. He would then go on to say, “I was there”, two days later, as the Indian captain scored his first-ever double century in first-class cricket. It may be astounding to imagine that the Delhi batsman hadn’t reached this milestone till then, but then again, 2016 has been a year of breaking new ground.
This was, among many things, the first-ever instance of an Indian captain scoring a double century overseas. It was always going to be a matter of time. And considering he will be leading India for at least half a decade more, these statistics and records will feel silly for ever standing before he played the game.
Social media, once again, went berserk. Fans all over the world declared that no other batsman can ever have such a good year across all formats. It just isn’t possible. Kohli has to be the best batsman in world cricket. There can’t be any doubt. Yet, in a year where Kohli has broken so many records, there is still doubt about whether he stands alone at the top. Because a few hours later, a certain Yorkshire batsman named Joe Root, all of 25, scored his 9th test century for England. This time, he didn’t stop there. He went past 200, and then 250, finally ending on 254. It was almost as if he knew that if Virat had gone and scaled new heights today, it was up to him to restore parity and keep the debate going.
Earlier this year, when Kohli had taken the World T20 by its horns and changed the way people viewed the format, many seemed to have forgotten that Root – almost single-handedly – won his team the final, until THAT Ben Stokes over to Carlos Brathwaite. Root had scored an attacking half century in the first innings – an innings as fluid and perfect as any of the Kohli miracles in the tournament. And it was in a final, which Kohli and his team had failed to reach. On the biggest stage, in the biggest stadium in the world. Eden Gardens applauded even more when Root then took out Chris Gayle with the ball, reminding everyone that his job isn’t restricted to waving a magic bat.
If England had won the final as they should have, Virat Kohli would have spent the rest of 2016 playing catch-up in everyone’s favorite debate. Root would have won his team a World Cup on his own – something that even Kohli or AB de Villiers or Steven Smith hasn’t done. Smith has been part of the 2015 ODI World Cup winning squad, of course, but he had a fearless and accomplished team to fall back on when he stuttered in the first few games of the tournament. He picked up when it mattered, and proved that even the best player of the team is only as good as the rest of it.
But there’s something different about Joe Root in whites. His 254 came against Pakistan at Old Trafford, under pressure, after throwing away his wicket in the previous game. His failures have often been good-looking 30s and 40s, and at times it seems like only he can get himself out. He became part of a select group of world-class batsmen when he scored his 10th Test century before turning 25 years of age. After he got out, his average lay at 55.13 in 44 Tests. Virat averages 46.28 after 42 Tests, with two more centuries than Root. Root would want to improve on converting his fifties – 20 fifties and 10 centuries doesn’t make for better reading than 12 fifties and 12 centuries by Kohli. The Indian isn’t known to play long innings either. Joe Root blunted perhaps the most dangerous attack in world cricket, reminding Englishmen why they should be as excited by him as they are about the likes of Chris Froome (cycling), Andy Murray (tennis) and Lewis Hamilton (F1).
Though they were batting on pitches continents apart, it was fascinating to see them actually bat against one another. Somewhere else, Kane Williamson must feel antsy at the lack of Test cricket, and Steven Smith must be raring to go, to fuel this debate further. These guys aren’t the “best young batsmen” anymore. They’re the best batsmen, and arguably more reliable and solid than even AB de Villiers in this format. It’s about time Kohli came of age in whites – now he can be judged wholly, and not just based on his insane limited-over exploits. Same for Root, who conquered ODIs and T20s in the last year or so.