On the latest episode of The ICC Review, Australia legend Ricky Ponting shared his reaction to Virat Kohli equalling his tally of 71 international centuries before looking at if the India star can now surpass Sachin Tendulkar's daunting record of 100 centuries.
After 1,020 days, the wait for Kohli's 71st century finally came to an end during the Asia Cup. When he smashed a stunning 122* off 61 balls against Afghanistan, and in doing so equalled Ponting's record of 71 international tons.
Asked for his thoughts on his record – now the joint-second highest international century tally – being matched, Ponting said: “It was only a matter of time.”
Throughout Kohli’s barren run, Ponting was vocal in his support for the former India captain, even as plenty of former players called for him to be dropped.
‘An all-time great’
Ahead of the Asia Cup, Kohli had taken a month-long break from cricket, making sure not to touch the bat during the break, something he conceded during an interview with Star Sports. He also opened up about his struggles with mental health during the period when he suffered a lean patch.
The break clearly helped as Kohli finished the Asia Cup as the second-highest run-scorer with 276 runs in five matches at a strike rate of 147.59, which included two fifties and a hundred.
"It’s (the century) taken a bit longer, the last couple of years because he has been in that century-making drought if you like, it has taken a bit longer to get to me than I thought it was going to.
“But look, he is obviously one of the all-time greats and there’s still a long time to go in his career. It was good to see him back in the runs."
Should Kohli open?
The 71st hundred, however, has arguably put India in a dilemma. While Kohli has played the majority of his T20I career at No.3 and excelled at it, the century poses the question if India should consider opening with him in the fast-approaching ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022.
In the nine matches where Kohli has opened for India in T20Is, he has scored 400 runs at an average of 57.14 and that, too, at a whopping strike rate of 161.29.
"The question we’re going to keep asking is – well I’m sure, the Indian selectors are asking the same question – does that create more of a problem than we thought with Virat getting that 100 opening the batting? What are we going to do now going into the World Cup?
“So there’s a few other questions that are probably raised on the back of that magnificent 100 that he made. He was even on record saying that he was surprised himself that the first 100 back was actually in a (T20I) game. He thought that that’d be the last option he’d have to score his first hundred in a couple of years.
Tribute to Anushka Sharma
Ponting also paid his respects to the way Kohli acknowledged his wife, Anushka Sharma, after making his century.
Kohli was quoted as saying after the match: “You see me standing here because one person has put things in perspective for me. That’s Anushka. This hundred is for her and for our little daughter Vamika as well.”
And Ponting admitted he would like to see more credit being paid to cricketers’ families for their efforts behind the scenes.
"It’s great to see him back in the runs. Great to see him back with a smile on his face. That’s the thing you know?” said Ponting.
“He was so happy, and I guess (he’s) relieved at the end of that game. He obviously spoke very fondly about his wife’s influence on the last couple of years of his life as well, which is also very nice to hear. A lot of that stuff goes unspoken about, in men’s sport in particular.
"Just the impact that your family and your very close ones have on you through your career. So it’s nice to hear that but also great to see Virat back in the runs again."
Can Kohli surpass Tendulkar?
Having equalled Ponting, there is only one name on the list of most tons above Kohli now – Tendulkar with 100 centuries.
Questions have now turned again to Tendulkar’s tally, and whether Kohli can find a late-career boost to track that down.
Ponting isn’t so sure he can get there.
"If you would have asked me three years ago, I’d have said yes,” said Ponting when asked if he could reach Tendulkar’s tally. “But the fact that it has slowed down as much as it did… yeah, I still think that it is possible for him, there’s no doubt.
"I still think he has got a number of years ahead of him, but I guess to still be 30 international hundreds behind, that’s a lot. That’s five or six Test hundreds a year maybe for the next three or four years. If you throw a couple of one-day ones, maybe the odd T20 ones on top of it.
"Look, I’ll never say never with Virat, because you know once he gets on a bit of a roll, you know how hungry he is and how keen for success he is. I’ll never say never that’s for sure."
Should Kohli take another break?
The T20 World Cup starts in less than a month, but India still have plenty of cricket to play before the tournament.
They have two white-ball assignments – they play South Africa in three ODIs and T20Is and Australia in a three-match T20I series at home – before flying to Australia.
Kohli has been named in the squads for both T20I series, but given a break served him so well recently, Ponting believes Kohli has a decision to make on whether he needs another one ahead of the World Cup.
"Yes, that’s a really good question and that’s probably a question only he could answer," Ponting said. "It’s just going to depend on how he is feeling mentally again.
"When you’re playing, you don’t ever realise how tired you are till you do take a step back, because you’re always bluffing yourself and convincing yourself that you are a 100% right physically and mentally.
“Sometimes you’re nowhere near that. And I think Virat has actually come out and said that as well that, he just didn’t realise sort of how bad a space he was in until he got that extended break.
"If he keeps scoring runs now, I’m sure he’ll play the next series. If he plays that and plays well and starts getting on a bit of a role, I think he’ll want to keep playing. He’d want to keep that momentum going.
"But if he does have a bit of a lean patch again, it’ll probably be in his interest and India’s interest to try and freshen him up mentally as much as they can going into the World Cup."
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