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Dubai: Indian cricket superstar Virat Kohli will play his 100th Test match when he turns out against Sri Lanka at Mohali, India, on Friday. Playing 100 Tests is a no mean feat: it requires a player to perform consistently over a long time. Kohli has done that with stirring performances in a career that spans over a decade, and he will become the 11th player to join the exclusive 100-Test club in Indian cricket.

Kohli’s success on the cricket field and beyond has been a product of hard work, a strict exercise regimen and persistence. Former Indian all-rounder Sridharan Sriram, a spin consultant with the Australian cricket team and batting and spin coach to Royal Challengers Bangalore, spoke at length on what makes Kohli and Steve Smith special batters in world cricket. As for AB de Villiers, Sriram calls him a freak and natural player.

The work ethics of Kohli and Smith, their intense drive to become the world’s best and their mental strength make them special. “Kohli has an exceptional drive and desire to be the world’s best. And you can see that in the way he trains, the way he handles himself and the way he leads a disciplined lifestyle in terms of what he eats and so on. It is amazing. The same goes for Smith,” Sriram said.

Kohli’s will to win is evident in the aggressive way he plays the game. To achieve his goal, Kohli has made several sacrifices since his One Day International debut in 2008 and the Test debut in 2011. Despite his immense talent, it is common knowledge that he used to sleep on an empty stomach to reduce his weight in a bid to get fitter. Kohli’s intense focus on fitness played a huge role in introducing fitness benchmarks like the Yo-Yo tests and 2-km time trials as part of the criteria for selection to the Indian team. And it helped produce results. India’s continued success owes a lot to the fitness regime during Kohli’s reign as captain.

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While Kohli has been criticised for his high level of aggression, he has always shown a softer side, a caring for fellow cricketers even when they are rivals. One particular incident occurred at the Kia Oval in England during the 2019 World Cup when Kohli jumped to the support of Smith, who was booed by the crowd, following the ball-tampering controversy during the tour of South Africa. Kohli, who was the Indian skipper, was batting; he looked towards a section of the fans and gestured to clap while pointing towards Smith. A grateful Smith was quick to shake hands with Kohli when the Australian walked past the Indian captain.

Kohli’s debut as Test captain came when he stepped in for an injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Adelaide in December 2014, and he made an immediate impact. After scoring 115 in the first innings of the first Test, he led India’s chase of 364 with an attacking 141, although India ultimately fell short by 48 runs. But the new skipper was lauded for his courage to go for a win, not a draw. “I told the guys last night that whatever target it was, we were going to chase it,” he said.

Records show that Kohli had scored 5,864 runs at an average of 54.80 with 20 centuries in 68 Tests as captain, way above his record when he was not a captain, which read 2,098 runs at an average of 41.13 with seven hundreds in 31 Tests. A phenomenal conversion rate in terms of centuries.

With a 58.62 win percentage, Kohli ranks fourth among the most successful Test captains. The top three are Steve Waugh (71.93%), Don Bradman (62.50%), Ricky Ponting (62.34%). That makes Kohli only the non-Australian in the top four.

Sriram, who has spent considerable time with former world No 1 Smith, feels Kohli and Smith are not as naturally gifted as AB [de Villiers], but they really worked hard to be where they are. “Their self-confidence is unbelievable. For Virat, any total is chaseable, and he genuinely believes that if he is there in any situation, he can win the game,” Sriram said.

When India meets Sri Lanka in Mohali, all eyes will be on Kohli when he takes guard for a new innings to mark his 100th Test. A century would be perfect.