March 2, 2012

Run-chase? Call Gambhir and Kohli

They average 75.33 per stand when batting second, which is better than any other pair

Over the last couple of days, Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir have been among a handful of players who've been in the news after the announcement of the Indian squad for the Asia Cup. Kohli has been handed the vice-captaincy, some say too early in his international career, at the expense of Gambhir, who, some experts claim, deserved it more. Conspiracies theories abound, but hopefully they won't get in the way of what Gambhir and Kohli do when they bat together in ODIs. For, going by their partnership record so far, they are among the best batting pairs going around, especially when facing a target.

These are still fairly early days for the Gambhir-Kohli partnership - they had batted together only six times before the beginning of 2010 - but they've achieved great things in the last couple of years. Their association didn't start auspiciously - their first partnership in ODIs lasted exactly two deliveries, and they didn't put together any runs - but since then they've been doing all the right things.

Their first major stand came against Sri Lanka in Kolkata in October 2009. Faced with a target of 316, India had already lost Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar within the first 22 deliveries of the chase. That didn't daunt Gambhir and Kohli, though, as they launched a terrific counterattack that took India from 23 to 247 - 224 runs - in 35.4 overs. Both scored centuries, with Gambhir remaining unbeaten on 150, and India romped home by seven wickets with 11 balls remaining. Since then, they've had quite a few more memorable stands, including another double-century partnership, this time against England in relatively easier circumstances.

Their most memorable partnership - and their first significant one outside the subcontinent - was clearly the one in Hobart earlier this week. Before that match, the pair had had starts in a few games, putting together stands of 38, 37 and 44, but had failed to convert them into something more substantial. That changed in Hobart, though, when their 115 came in just 18.1 overs and laid the platform for the next big charge, between Kohli and Suresh Raina.

That was the fifth century stand between Kohli and Gambhir, in a small matter of 26 innings, giving them an average stand of 64.87. It gets even better in run-chases: in 20 partnerships when Gambhir and Kohli have chased a target, they've averaged 75.33, and curiously, all of their eight 50-plus stands have come when India have batted second. On the six occasions when India have batted first, their stands read 0, 39, 44, 48, 43, and 27 - 201 runs in six innings at an average of 33.50.

Their partnership record in chases, though, is truly remarkable. Among pairs who've scored at least 1000 runs batting second, none have a better average than the 75.33 that the Gambhir-Kohli combination have managed so far. Moreover, they're only one century partnership short of the record by any non-opening pair in run-chases: three of them - Clarke-Ponting, Dhoni-Yuvraj and Gibbs-Kallis - have six 100-plus stands each, but Gambhir and Kohli come right after them, with five.

Pairs with best partnership averages in ODI run-chases (Qual: 1000 p'ship runs)
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand Scoring rate 100/ 50 stands
Gambhir-Kohli 20 1356 75.33 5.47 5/ 3
Ponting-Watson 19 1104 64.94 6.20 3/ 4
Clarke-Ponting 25 1362 64.85 4.72 6/ 4
de Villiers-Smith 25 1506 62.75 5.90 5/ 7
Hayden-Ponting 28 1348 61.27 5.12 3/ 6
Chanderpaul-Sarwan 22 1206 57.42 4.85 3/ 9
Gibbs-Kallis 35 1775 57.25 5.12 6/ 4
Dhoni-Yuvraj 35 1660 57.24 5.41 6/ 9

Their second-innings record is one of the major differences between Gambhir-Kohli and some of the other top Indian pairs. Among the four top pairs in Indian ODI history (in terms of partnership runs), three have better stats in the first innings. For two of them, Dravid-Tendulkar and Dravid-Ganguly, the difference between the first- and second-innings numbers is substantial. The Ganguly-Tendulkar combination is the only one with a better second-innings average.

India's top pairs in 1st and 2nd innings in ODIs
Pair 1st inngs - runs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands 2nd inngs - runs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands
Ganguly-Tendulkar 3744 44.04 9/ 15 4483 50.94 17/ 14
Sehwag-Tendulkar 2244 40.80 5/ 10 2143 37.59 8/ 8
Dravid-Ganguly 2677 60.84 8/ 10 1655 39.40 3/ 8
Dravid-Tendulkar 2433 48.66 8/ 5 1684 39.16 3/ 9

In fact, the overall partnership average of 64.87 for Gambhir-Kohli is also the best among all pairs who've scored at least 1500 partnership runs. Among Indian pairs with at least 1500 runs, only one other pair - MS Dhoni and Raina - have a 60-plus average (though they've admittedly maintained it over far more innings). Most of the other pairs who have done well for India mainly played in the post-2000 or the late-1990s era. The one exception is right at the bottom of the list: Mohammad Azharuddin and Navjot Sidhu averaged 49.20 in their 40 innings.

Indian pairs with best partnership averages in ODIs (Qual: 1500 runs)
Pair Innings Runs Average stand Run rate 100/ 50 stands
Gambhir-Kohli 26 1557 64.87 5.40 5/ 3
Dhoni-Raina 44 2267 61.27 6.02 7/ 9
Ajay Jadeja-Tendulkar 41 2111 57.05 5.39* 9/ 8
Dravid-Kaif 44 1960 51.57 5.08 8/ 6
Gambhir-Sehwag 43 2137 50.88 6.52 5/ 9
Dravid-Ganguly 87 4332 50.37 4.83* 11/ 18
Dhoni-Yuvraj 62 2777 49.58 5.56 9/ 13
Azharuddin-Sidhu 40 1919 49.20 4.76* 4/ 11
* Complete balls-faced data not available

Among those who have scored at least 1000 partnership runs for India, there are a few pairs whose averages aren't quite as impressive. The Gavaskar-Srikkanth opening combination averaged only 30.54 (the run rate is a blank since their balls-faced data isn't available). The stats for Gambhir-Tendulkar, though, are more surprising: in 48 innings they have only four century stands, and an average of 30.56 - you'd expect much more from two players who are, individually, among the best in the business.

Similarly, you'd expect much better numbers from the Yuvraj-Kaif combination. They're remembered for that historic 121-run stand at Lord's against England in the NatWest Series final in 2002, but their overall stats are somewhat patchy - they averaged 32.94, with only three century stands in 40 innings. A part of the reason for that, though, was also that their partnerships were for wickets four, five or six, which didn't always give them the time or the overs to settle in and put together a significant partnership.

With both Gambhir and Kohli batting in the top four, though, that's unlikely to be a handicap for them. The challenge for them will be to sustain this record, and to lift their first-innings game.

Indian pairs with the lowest partnership averages (Qual: 1000 p'ship runs)
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand Run rate 100/ 50 stands
Gavaskar-Srikkanth 55 1680 30.54 - 2/ 11
Sidhu-Tendulkar 36 1100 30.55 5.04* 1/ 6
Gambhir-Tendulkar 48 1467 30.56 5.00 4/ 5
Kaif-Yuvraj 40 1252 32.94 5.36 3/ 6
Jadeja-Robin Singh 40 1200 33.33 4.97* 1/ 8
Azharuddin-Kapil 36 1010 33.66 4.43* 0/ 7
Tendulkar-Yuvraj 46 1558 35.40 5.37 3/ 9
* Complete balls-faced data not available

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter