India v Australia, 6th ODI, Nagpur October 31, 2013

The champion of the chase

Virat Kohli's phenomenal success in ODI chases is largely due to his ability to play percentage cricket at a frenetic pace. He hit only one six in his 115 off 66 balls in Nagpur

Virat Kohli now has 11 hundreds in 64 innings he has batted in ODI chases. Sachin Tendulkar, the only man ahead of Kohli, holds the record with 17 in 232 second innings, but the real perspective can be drawn by looking at whom Kohli is tied with: his friend, Royal Challengers Bangalore team-mate and West Indies opener Chris Gayle, who has taken 132 innings to score 11 centuries in ODI chases. And Kohli is not even an opener, in fact four of his 11 hundreds have come at No. 4.

Even after making allowances for heavy bats, smaller and quicker outfields, new fielding regulations, general decline in bowling, advent of Twenty20, global warming and whatever else, these are scary numbers and a huge improvement over players who have been, for a significant portion of their careers, Kohli's contemporaries.

In his 64 chases, Kohli has remained unbeaten on less than 100 in eight wins, which effectively reduces his hundred-scoring rate to one in every five innings where scoring a century is possible.

"I sort of like batting under lights," Kohli said. "If I have a target on the board, it is always easy to analyse how many runs you need in, say, a Powerplay, or what sort of situation you are playing in. I always like a target on board and sort of analyse my game and sort out how I want to go about it."

His last two hundreds in chases have come in 52 and 61 balls, India's fastest and third-fastest centuries. Only two other batsmen have scored more than one century in less than 65 balls: Shahid Afridi and Sanath Jayasuriya. They did not have the technique Kohli does, and they had to take risks while pursuing those strike-rates.

In playing proper cricket shots while notching up these staggering numbers, in demoralising oppositions by going at such a rate by playing percentage cricket, is Kohli's genius. He has all the shots, which gives him the confidence to back his game even when he is taking his time at the start of his innings. Where he tellingly scores over his contemporaries - who are becoming more adept at clearing fields and relying less on the single - is that he still hates playing dot balls.

In his last two chases, Kohli reduced his number of dot balls hit risk-free boundaries. During his 115 off 66 balls in Nagpur, Kohli hit only one six. He didn't need to hit more. There are few things more disheartening for an opposition captain than a batsman who doesn't need to hit in the air to score at a strike rate of 174. Kohli took a risk only at the start of his innings, when he slog-swept a six, and after he began timing the ball sweetly he went back to playing percentage cricket.

At the end of the match George Bailey, the opposition captain, made an interesting point. He said his bowlers had at least forced Kohli to use his best shots. He played them after Mitchell Johnson had picked up his bunnies, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, and after MS Dhoni had realised how easy Kohli was making batting look.

India needed 35 in three overs, the most challenging the chase of 351 had got. James Faulkner was to bowl the 48th over. In the 46th, he had beaten Dhoni's bat three times with deliveries that went against the angle from round the stumps. He had also drawn a thick outside edge that went for four. This was where Kohli would be tested. "You are making me play good shots," Kohli seemed to say. "I will play the good shots."

To the first ball off the 48th over, Kohli charged out, took it at chest height, and drove it - yes, drove it - to wide long-off for four. Bailey sent another man there, and Kohli took a slightly fuller delivery two balls later and flicked it between long-on and deep midwicket. The game was back in India's grasp.

"When Mitchell Johnson came back, it helps to have someone of the experience of MS," Kohli said about that period of play. "He said, 'He has come for wickets, let's play him out, and one of the other overs can be the big one.' I had confidence in my ability and the sort of pace I was setting that I could clear fielders." It's that confidence that he has, that Dhoni has, which helps Kohli keep calm during the quiet periods. On evidence of his ODI career so far, the confidence is not misplaced.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Logan on November 4, 2013, 14:24 GMT

    @frommoonman,I think a lot of people ie the die hard Sachin fans have misunderstood Sunil Gavaskar's comments.He did not mention that Kholi will end up a better crickter than Sachin,or the best cricketer that India will ever produce.He was talking about stats,records are there to be broken and Kholi stats prove that he could surpass Sachin's.That does not necessarily make Kholi a better cricketer than Sachin.On the other hand you can never underestimate Kholi's contribution to Indian cricket ,for that matter the world.Kholi is a good example for our future stars to follow on the technique of batting.

    My indian brother in India,stop stirring trouble between 2 legends of cricket in India ie Sachin & Sunil and also the future legend Kholi.

  • Dummy4 on November 2, 2013, 9:30 GMT

    Only one of his 17 centuries have come outside of the Subcontinent and Zimbabwe. That was against Sri Lanka in Hobart. He has yet to score a hundred against SA, Australia, England, New Zealand and West Indies away from home.

    Seems to me we need to wait a while before passing judgement on his class.

  • Dummy4 on November 2, 2013, 7:20 GMT

    These is a very wide chasm between his performances in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe vesus all the remaining venues.

    Before we annoint him as the next God of Indian cricket ( as some fans are doing) it may be prudent to wait for more evidence in away games against Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa and West Indies.

  • Dummy4 on November 1, 2013, 6:01 GMT

    Why the comparison ? Sachin is Sachin and Kohli is Kohli. Its the wins which are important.

  • Mani on November 1, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    For folks who say Virat is in a different era than Sachin with all the rule changes, let us do the same when comparing Sachin with Don.. Uncovered pitches, no limit on bouncers, lethal bowlers when there was no protective head gears, no power (compressed) willows.. the list goes on..

  • LAJU on October 31, 2013, 20:04 GMT

    What I respect most about Kohli's comments is his admission of Dhoni's insight regarding Mitchell Johnson--to see him off and then target the other bowlers. This reinforces Dhoni's integrity as a captain, especially his insight in limited overs. As we say goodbye to Tendulkar, I can't help but admit that after the next world cup we may never find a captain as efficient and wise as Dhoni, who captains in all forms of the game. But, Kohli's willingness to listen to Dhoni are signs of his burgeoning into a future captain as he asserts Dhoni's calm influence on him. Kohli has worked on his temperament and he is no longer the verbose youngster whose lips we need have only read to know the profanity of from his lips. All said, I am grateful that we have a responsible lad in Kohli, and Mike Hussey had only praises for his ability after the match--one legend recognizing a future one.

  • Ashok on October 31, 2013, 16:19 GMT

    Kohli is a superb ODI batsman without peers! Nobody in the world comes close to him. Gayle & KP may be distant seconds. Scoring a century in 51 or 61 balls in a chase is a huge unrivalled feat which no one has attained so far. Doing it against Johnson at 150 KPH would put fear of God in any bowler. Two magnificient knocks with no comparable knock in ODI's. These were the best innings played in chase by any batsman. Would have made ever Great Sobers Cringe!I would say he would break Tendulkar's record of ODI centuries if he plays with this intensity for next 2 years. He is literally treating the ODI bowlers with the same scant respect that they get in T20. No wonder he is the record holder for the fastest ODI century. Bravo Kohli - you are the envy of every Cricketer for your superb hand- eye coordination, great stroke play & discipline. Larwood was once created to halt Bradman's demolition of bowlers. I wonder if there is another one- on the wkts. Bodyliner- lurking to curb Kohli!

  • Android on October 31, 2013, 15:01 GMT

    virat is genius and best odi batsman of this era

  • mukesh on October 31, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    Virat kohli is pure class , it was clear he is going to be the mainstay of our batting right from that Australian tour where he was the only one who scored a century in test series, and not to forget his blitzkrieg against a hapless SL , his real challenge will be playing steyn and co in South african pitches ,wish our BCCI got us something better than a mere 2 test match series :(

  • Dummy4 on October 31, 2013, 12:51 GMT

    @frommoonman - Kohli has Dhawan, Dhoni, Sharma, Yuvraj; so many match-winners to back him up. Who did Sachin have? In his time, it was a one man show - oh, and against A LOT better bowlers. Plus, Sachin scored a century after every 6 innings between 1998-2003. Kohli has hit a century after every 7 innings over the past 5 years. And at a lower strike-rate than Tendulkar!

    And let's not forget the ODI rules, pitches, conditions, etc back then. Apart from Steyn, I don't see any bowler equivalent to McGrath, Wasim, Waqar, Akhtar, Bond, Lee, Gillespie, Donald, Pollock, etc. Neither are the spinners as good as Murali or Warnie!