And, we’re almost there. Even though 'The Hundred' has driven the English imagination just as the Stanford T20 revolution did nearly two decades ago, English summer thrives on the longest format of the game. There is literally no comparison. Thus as the five-match series between India and England kick starts on Wednesday, we will be in for a classic bout of two incredible outfits over a period of a month and a half.
Like always, there will be some stand-out performances, some fantastic battles between bowling and batting to go with the usually incredible atmosphere of the English venues. But what else will it mean for the leaders of the pack, whose career trajectories have followed a distinct pattern of sorts to enable an era-defining transformation for their respective cricket teams? Virat Kohli and Joe Root are the centre of gravity for India and England respectively and their success will have a huge bearing on the eventual outcome of the series.
Kohli had made his debut just a year before Root, who is two years younger than him, did but his initial years transcended with a change of guard in Indian cricket. Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, and of course the biggest of them all Sachin Tendulkar more or less bowed out of the international stage at the same time, leaving an enormous gap. It worked as a deterrent for the MS Dhoni-led side as they faced some of the most embarrassing defeats in England and Australia, but for Kohli, it helped him settle down in a rather new team environment and subsequently become the major cog in the wheel. Since then the Delhite has gone on to become an all-format behemoth. While Root has had a pretty different career progression, it is the conjunction of their captaincy record that tells a story of its own.
Kohli assumed permanent Test captaincy in 2015 and Root did that two years later when Alastair Cook, following the 2016 debacle in India, decided to leave the rigors of the Test captaincy behind. An average of 58 in 61 Test matches as the captain gives a clear indication of the Indian skipper’s incredible consistency but Root drops the ball heavily in that regard. While the Yorkshire batter averaged 52.80 till July 2017, as a captain he has scored 44.78 runs per dismissal. It is a gaping hole that the England management wouldn’t have imagined for their star batter back in 2017.
A couple of days ago when Ben Stokes pulled out of the Test series against India, Root was pretty understanding of the situation. By saying 'I just want my friend to be okay', Root showcased his understanding of life beyond a cricket field. His empathy shone through. However, deep down every English fan, purely from a cricketing front, knows how big a challenge it will be for the management to field a replacement for the Durham all-rounder. That is the kind of assurance Stokes brings to the table, a smearing transformation if ever there is one. It also meant Root is no more the most important member of the side, given his own batting form. Since the beginning of 2018, Root has averaged a mere 32.79 at home, a far cry from his home average of 59.46 in 35 matches before that. In England, he has seven fifty-plus scores against one century - a conversion rate of just 12.5%.
On the other hand, despite his recent travails of not getting to the triple-figure marks, it is an established fact that Kohli loves scoring centuries. As captain, the Indian skipper has 35 fifty-plus scores as compared to Root’s 31 but the divide is huge when we account for the conversion rate. The Indian converts 57.14 of his half-centuries to triple-figure scores while the corresponding number for Root is a mere 29.03. The gulf between these two is not hyperbole.
That said, Root is not all gloom and imperfection. One of the finest batters of the era, England have always benefited from Root’s standard. The English skipper has scored 18.4% of the team's runs when they have won but for Kohli, that number drops down to 16.7%. It was perhaps to do with India losing the last Pataudi Trophy 4-1 despite Kohli’s heroics but the numbers paint a picture of its own.
Kohli hasn’t been at the best of his form since November 2019. A triple-figure mark eludes him and an average of 24.64 across eight matches is not something he would take pride in. The England series provides him with an opportunity to squash that for good and raise the price of his stock further. Meanwhile, Root, who averages 50.19 in 29 innings since the beginning of 2020, will want to continue his patch and turn his home record upside down.
Over to Nottingham now!