Virat
Old Firm: Virat Kohli, then Indian captain, in conversation with erstwhile head coach Ravi Shastri. The pair held sway over Indian cricket for a better part of last seven years. Image Credit: PTI

Kolkata: When it comes to praise for Virat Kohli, there can be no holding back Ravi Shastri. The former head coach of the Indian team, who has seen the master batter reach the peak of his craft as well as captaincy from the dressing room for close to seven years since 2014, was effusive as usual as his favourite pupil approached his 100th Test against Sri Lanka at Mohali from Friday.

Come Friday, the attention of the cricketing world will be rivetted on Test cricket again - what with the hype around Kohli’s landmark Test as well as Pakistan hosting Australia in a potentially explosive series starting at Rawalpindi. If the five-day format is buzzing with some life again and the World Test Championship giving it more context than ever before, Shastri feels performers like Kohli should get a fair share of the credit for it.

‘‘As I have said before, Kohli has been one of the biggest ambassadors and cheerleaders of Test cricket. The passion he has shown towards this format - both as a batter and a captain striving for his team’s excellence - has now filtered to the young players as well. Ask a Rishabh Pant or Shubhman Gill and you will see how much they really want to excel in Tests,’’ said the former Indian allrounder.

MORE ON KOHLI'S 100TH TEST

Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive phone interview from Hyderabad, where Shastri launched his Centre of Excellence on Thursday (along with Bharath Arun and R. Sridhar), he vouched that a purple patch is round the corner for Kohli. ‘‘With the pressures of captaincy now off his shoulders, I am confident that Kohli will turn the corner soon and there will be no looking back. All great players have been through these so-called lean patches, be it a Sachin Tendulkar or Viv Richards, but they always come back stronger from that phase,’’ Shastri said.

The remarkable part about Kohli’s first decade in international cricket is that despite enjoying sobriquets like the ‘Chasemaster’ in white ball cricket (43 of his 70 international centuries so far have come from limited overs games), he has been equally prolific in the longer format - and came out in flying colours under some of the most challenging conditions, be it the 169 against Mitchell Johnson & Co at Melbourne in 2014 or the prolific form on the 2018 tour of England where he sought redemption against Jimmy Anderson & Co.

‘‘This has been possible due to his consistency and work ethic. Just ponder this - that despite the talk of his lean patch over the last two years, Kohli is the only batsman in world cricket with a 50-plus average in all three formats of the game,’’ Shastri pointed out, sticking his neck out to say that the batter is his best bet to reach Tendulkar’s superhuman feat of 100 international centuries.

For someone at 33 and striving to get back into his old rhythm, how realistic is it to place such expectations on Kohli? ‘‘Yes, it is. Given his level of fitness, I think Kohli is perfectly capable of carrying on for another five-six years. This means you are looking at around five centuries in a year - which is not impossible given the team will be playing around 10 Tests in a year and 20 other international matches,’’ he said.

Interestingly enough, even the ‘Little Master’ was not spared of the talk of loss of form over the last four to five years of his career - while one can see an uncanny similarity between the wait for his century of centuries and Kohli’s wait for a three-figure innings for more than two years now. Asked if Kohli needed to modify his style to prolong his career, Shastri went into the analytical mode: ‘‘Every player needs to change with time to survive in top flight cricket, even Tendulkar did it. One may not be as dominant as before and need to play the waiting game if need be - this may mean settling down for the first 30-35 minutes before opening up.’’

Well, is that the message he wants to send out to Kohli as the latter takes a fresh guard in Test cricket?