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Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are important batsmen for India. But when will they next reach three figures?
In November 2019, when India played Bangladesh, Virat Kohli had played splendidly in his 136 in the day-night Test at the Eden Gardens.
At that point, seeing Virat Kohli score a hundred was just a frequent event but we never thought we would not see Kohli score in the triple digits since then.
Granted, there were disruptions due to COVID. Kohli still has played 19 Test innings with no centuries and only five half centuries with the highest score of 74. He has an average of just about 30, which is low by Virat Kohli’s exceptional standards.
In ODIs too, his last century came against the West Indies in August 2019 just after the World Cup, something that is over two years ago now. He has played 15 innings since.
However, his average is better in the ODI format with an average of over 45 with eight half centuries of the 15 innings he has played.
Would I say he is out of form? Perhaps in red-ball cricket, but definitely not in ODI cricket. And his T20I scores are also excellent in the past two years, with five half centuries in 13 innings and an average of over 45.
Regardless, there seems to be some sort of a mental rut that Virat Kohli finds himself in this century drought, similar to one perhaps even Sachin Tendulkar was in during the beginning of his ODI career, taking over 78 innings to score a hundred.
There is a reason for optimism though. Virat Kohli is scheduled to play nine innings (six in Tests and three in ODIs) in South Africa, which is his favourite overseas venue, averaging 55 with two centuries in Tests.
He has a mind-blowing average of 87 in ODIs with three centuries, which is his highest ODI average in any country, including India.
With Anrich Nortje’s injury and Kagiso Rabada’s volatile form, the South African attack seems somewhat less intimidating even with Lungi Ngidi and Keshav Maharaj.
The pitches are also friendly to Virat Kohli’s style of play and therefore this is his best chance to get out of his own mental rut to score his next century in either or both of the formats.
In January 2019, when Australia played India, Cheteshwar Pujara was being compared to Rahul Dravid. With 193 in Sydney, he was an essential part of India’s first victory down under.
In an Amazon Prime documentary, journalist Gerard Whateley termed Pujara as someone who “batted us (Australia) into the oblivion”, such was Pujara’s grit and determination. Many still see him as Rahul Dravid’s rightful spiritual successor.
But right after that Australia tour, Pujara has played in 42 innings over 24 Tests. And he has an average of just 27 since then, with 11 50-plus scores in those 42 innings.
Should he fail to score a 100 in South Africa, it would be three years since his last hundred – a drought that is longer and more worrying than Kohli’s.
Unlike Virat Kohli, his performance in South Africa is just around 30, significantly lower than his overall average of 44, with only one century and five half centuries in 23 innings.
The challenge to score a hundred will be even more difficult for Pujara than for Kohli.
And with the upcoming pressure for the Indian spot from both Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer, along with an untested Suryakumar Yadav, Pujara might soon find himself in the Ajinkya Rahane territory of scrutiny should he fail to perform.