Numbers Tell the Tale: Why Kohli is the Greatest ODI Batsman Ever
Virat Kohli raises his bat after scoring a century in an ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Virat Kohli raises his bat after scoring a century in an ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo.(Photo: AP)

Numbers Tell the Tale: Why Kohli is the Greatest ODI Batsman Ever

It was an ODI between India and Sri Lanka, played down under on 28 February 2012 at Hobart during the triangular ODI series. Sri Lanka batted first and ended up scoring 320 runs. Beating Sri Lanka wasn’t enough, India needed to chase down the huge total in 40 overs to survive in the tri-series, as their net run rate was very poor.

With the effective required run rate around eight runs per over and both openers Tendulkar and Sehwag back in the pavilion before the tenth over, the stage was set for a young Virat Kohli to do what he does best – the rescue act. Kohli, batting at number four, smashed the Sri Lankan bowlers all over the park. His innings of 133 off just 86 balls made sure India finished the match well before the 40th over.

The innings was not only about the fireworks from Kohli’s bat. The way he paced his innings with a clinical precision and calculation, it was perhaps for the first time the world got a glimpse of how great a chaser Kohli would turn out to be in the coming days.

At that time if somebody told me that Kohli would go down in history as the greatest-ever ODI batsman, I would have discarded it as a premature statement.

But six years down the line Kohli is well on his way to cement his place as the greatest ODI batsman ever. According to many former cricketers, Kohli has already reached the pinnacle of ODI cricket.

Last week, Pakistan’s Javed Miandad unequivocally declared Virat Kohli as the best ODI batsman in the world. Not only him, many from the cricketing fraternity have lauded him enough for his heroics in India’s successful run-chases. Former English captain Naseer Hussain has called him “the greatest chaser of all-time”.

Virat Kohli has an average of 57.5, which is the highest in the history among all batsmen who have played more than 100 ODIs.
Virat Kohli has an average of 57.5, which is the highest in the history among all batsmen who have played more than 100 ODIs.
(Photo: AP)

So, where does Kohli stand today amongst the best of the ODI batsmen from all eras? It is not an easy evaluation to be made as there are a lot of permutations and combinations of both qualitative and quantitative arguments before we can reach a conclusion. The assessment regarding statistics would essentially be based on three parameters – strike rate, number of centuries and average. But numbers alone for a player cannot be enough as playing conditions across various eras are different.

For example, a team total of 250 during the eighties used to be a winning total; somewhat at par with a total of 350 today. Therefore, the batting numbers or indexes of ODI legends 20-30 years back are bound to be lower than what they are for the top ODI batsmen today.

But the important question however is that which are the ODI legends Virat Kohli competes with?

File photo of Vivian Richards.
File photo of Vivian Richards.
(Photo: Twitter/Waqas Ahmad Warraich)

Vivian Richards was the first superstar in ODIs. He was dominating, destructive and intimidating. Throughout his career, he had simply toyed with the opposition bowling. In the mid-eighties when a team total of 200 was considered a decent total, Richards played a knock of 189 in an ODI against England.

Till the onset of this millennium, Dean Jones and Sachin Tendulkar were considered by the cricketing world as the greatest ODI batsmen along with Richards.

During the period of 1984-94, Jones spearheaded the Australian middle order in the ODIs and was one of the main pillars behind Australian’s resurgence in world cricket during Allan Border's reign. He was fearless, a frantic runner between the wickets and used to take all types of bowling attack head-on.

Obviously there is no need to remind people why Tendulkar, who holds most of the batting records in ODI, is a great ODI batsman.

Post-2000, Ricky Ponting, Kohli and AB de Villiers (ABD) have been the most influential ODI batsmen, with Tendulkar still justifying the tag of ‘God of Cricket’.

File photo of Sachin Tendulkar.
File photo of Sachin Tendulkar.
(Photo: Reuters)

So, overall these are the ODI batsmen who really have an impressive record and they can be tipped as the greatest ODI batsmen ever. Some may wonder why Michael Bevan is missing, who is regarded as the most consistent performer and a great finisher. Bevan actually missed out on the ability to score briskly. His strike rate was only 74.6. Dean Jones also lags on this parameter, with a strike rate of 72.6.

With 34 ODI hundreds (second to Tendulkar only) and with close to 10,000 runs, Kohli has already achieved the unimaginable. Why Kohli stands little higher than the other greats of the ODIs is because he scores high in all parameters.

Kohli has an average of 57.5, which is highest in the history among all batsmen who have played more than 100 ODIs. Virat Kohli’s strike rate is 91.9. Both him and AB de Villiers are the only two players in 100 plus ODI club with a strike rate of above 90 and at the same time an average of 50 plus.

But Kohli surpasses everybody else with a huge margin because of his ability to score centuries consistently. Kohli has scored a century in every 5.8 innings in comparison to ABD’s 8.6.

For comparison; strike rate, average and innings per century for our god Sachin Tendulkar is 86.2, 44.4 and 9.2 respectively. Clearly, Virat Kohli is way ahead of Tendulkar in all these parameters. Same figures for another great of the game Ricky Ponting is 80.4, 42 and 12.2 respectively, which is lower still.

ABD is one player who is closest to Kohli with 25 ODI hundreds and a strike rate of 100 plus.

Viv Richards is another formidable candidate for the GOAT (greatest of all times) tag with his strike rate of 90 and average of 47. As stated above, if we correct these figures to the current era, in today’s time the par average and strike rate of Richards would be 60 and 110 respectively.

File photo of AB de Villiers. 
File photo of AB de Villiers. 
(Photo: Reuters)

But there is a life beyond numbers and Kohli epitomises that. Kohli is the ultimate chase machine and has the impeccable art of pacing his innings.

Batting second, Kohli has scored 20 ODI tons with an average of 66.4. Out of total 34 centuries, 29 have been in a winning cause. How he shines under pressure is reflected in the fact that as a captain, Kohli has scored 12 centuries in 47 matches (a century every 4th ODI) at a whopping average of 81.9.

Both the numbers and other facts clearly suggest that Kohli is a worthy contender for the tag of greatest of all time ODI batsman, with close competition from king Viv Richards and ABD. Kohli, however, stands tall quite clearly.

Virat Kohli is only 29 years old, and with 8-9 years still left in his career, it is very difficult to imagine at this point where captain Kohli will be when he decides to call it a day.

(The writer is an IIT graduate with a passion for sports, history and politics and can be reached at @pankajag1973)

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