February 5, 2016

Why Kohli is the best T20I batsman around

The runs he has scored and the assurance and control with which he has got them suggest so
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Virat Kohli has been outstanding in every stage of a T20I innings © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The 20-over format is supposed to be one that forces batsmen to play low-percentage cricket and makes it extremely difficult for them to achieve any sort of consistency in run-scoring. Virat Kohli, though, has turned that theory on its head in recent times.

In his last 11 innings in T20Is, Kohli has scored 592 runs at 84.57 and a strike rate of 145, with eight 50-plus scores. His 11 innings read thus: 54, 57*, 23, 72*, 77, 66, 43, 1, 90*, 59*, 50. The only time he didn't pass 20 was against South Africa in Cuttack, when he was run out for 1. His 199 runs between dismissals against Australia is the second highest in T20Is, next only to Martin Guptill's 216 runs between dismissals in 2012.

Kohli's consistency in this format isn't an accident. He has devised a method to play relatively risk-free cricket without compromising on the ability to score runs quickly. In the series in Australia, his control factor - the percentage of deliveries which he middled (or left alone) - was as high as 90.3, which was quite unusual for the 20-over format; in contrast, Rohit Sharma's control factor was 74%, Shikhar Dhawan's 77.5, Aaron Finch's 75, and Shane Watson's 82.6. Kohli's control factor, coupled with his strike rate of 160 and aggregate of 199 in three innings, are fine indicators of how utterly dominant he was in the series. It is no surprise that his average in T20Is is 50.62, easily the best among batsmen who have scored at least 500 runs in this format; the next best is Finch's 41.61 - almost 18% lower than Kohli's - while several others crowd the space in the mid-30s.

Highest averages in T20Is (min 500 runs)
Player Inns Runs Average SR 100s 50s
 Virat Kohli  31  1215  50.62  136.5  0  12
 Aaron Finch  24  874  41.61  151.5  1  6
 Faf du Plessis  26  825  39.28  134.8  1  6
 JP Duminy  58  1528  38.20  122.5  0  8
 Michael Hussey  30  721  37.94  136.3  0  4
 Kevin Pietersen  36  1176  37.93  141.5  0  7
 Misbah-ul-Haq  34  788  37.52  110.2  0  3
 Kane Williamson  28  844  36.69  127.7  0  5
 Brendon McCullum  70  2140  35.66  136.2  2  13
 Chris Gayle  43  1406  35.15  142.6  1  13

Batting at No. 3 allows him a better opportunity to settle in than those who bat in the middle order, but Kohli also has the skills to bat at different stages of an innings and mould his game so that he isn't a liability at any stage of a T20I innings.

His dot-ball percentage in the first ten balls of his innings is only 42.8. Most other batsmen in the top three have a higher percentage: it's 49 for Hashim Amla, 50 for Rohit, Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis, 52 for Mahela Jayawardene, 55 for David Warner and 64 for Chris Gayle. Among batsmen who play regularly in the top three, only Kane Williamson has a lower dot-ball percentage (39.4). Kohli's strike rate is 124 during this period, and he hits a four every 6.3 balls; for Williamson, the corresponding numbers are 130, and 5.8.

Kohli's rate of hitting sixes in T20Is is low, but so is his dot-ball percentage © Associated Press

As the graphic above shows, the stats for Kohli at different stages of an innings are also excellent. In the Powerplay overs he played 39% dots, but it reduces to 24% in the middle overs, and to 18.5% in the last five overs. Overall, his dot-ball percentage is an incredibly low 28.2, the least among all batsmen who have faced at least 500 balls in T20Is.

Lowest dot-ball percentage in T20Is (Min 500 balls faced)
Batsman Runs Ave SR Dot%
 Virat Kohli  1215  50.62  136.5  28.2
 Kevin Pietersen  1176  37.93  141.5  30.7
 Michael Hussey  721  37.94  136.2  31.0
 Angelo Mathews  824  27.46  123.7  31.4
 Shahid Afridi  1313  18.23  149.3  32.2
 Suresh Raina  1073  33.53  135.7  33.9
 Kane Williamson  844  36.69  127.7  34.0
 Umar Akmal  1506  26.89  124.2  34.2
 JP Duminy  1528  38.20  122.5  34.5
 Mushfiqur Rahim  617  19.34  117.0  34.5
 MS Dhoni  899  33.29  117.8  34.8

One of the standout aspects of Kohli's batting in this format - and something he has also alluded to in interviews - is his ability to play regular cricket shots, keep his shape and balance while batting aggressively, and find gaps in the field for twos and fours. In the three matches in Australia, Kohli took almost as many twos (24) as he played dot balls (25), out of the 124 deliveries he faced in the series. He also found the boundary 18 times, which works out to an average of 6.88 balls per four. Over his entire career, he has averaged 7.18 balls per four, which is 11th among the 54 batsmen who have faced at least 500 deliveries in T20Is.

Lowest balls per 4 in T20Is (Min 500 balls)
Player Runs BF SR 4s Balls/4
 Paul Stirling  666  520  128.07  86  6.05
 Aaron Finch  874  577  151.47  95  6.07
 Graeme Smith  982  770  127.53  123  6.26
 Mahela Jayawardene  1493  1121  133.18  173  6.48
 Kane Williamson  844  661  127.68  101  6.54
 Kevin Pietersen  1176  831  141.51  119  6.98
 Tillakaratne Dilshan  1618  1341  120.65  191  7.02
 Alex Hales  1111  817  135.98  116  7.04
 Hashim Amla  700  571  122.59  81  7.05
 Mohammad Shahzad  1111  817  135.98  115  7.10
 Virat Kohli  1215  890  136.51  124  7.18
 Gautam Gambhir  932  783  119.02  109  7.18

At the same time, Kohli doesn't prefer hitting sixes in this format. He has struck only 27 in 890 balls, an average of one every 33 deliveries. Among the 25 batsmen who have 500-plus deliveries and are striking at 125 or more, only two - Williamson and Jayawardene - have a lower rate of hitting sixes. Williamson is the lowest by far. He has struck only 10 of them in 661 balls, despite which he has a strike rate of 128. On the other hand, Yuvraj Singh hits a six every 10.64 balls, which is the best among these 25 batsmen. Among Indian batsmen, Kohli's six-hitting rate is considerably lower than that of Rohit (21.7) and Suresh Raina (20.8), but his strike rate is slightly better than them both.

Highest balls per 6 in T20Is (Min 500 balls, SR 125-plus)
Player Runs BF SR 6s Balls/6
 Kane Williamson  844  661  127.68  10  66.10
 Mahela Jayawardene  1493  1121  133.18  33  33.97
 Virat Kohli  1215  890  136.51  27  32.96
 Paul Stirling  666  520  128.07  16  32.50
 Shakib Al Hasan  897  715  125.45  22  32.50
 Graeme Smith  982  770  127.53  26  29.62
 AB de Villiers  1167  927  125.88  32  28.97
 Kevin Pietersen  1176  831  141.51  32  25.97

And then there is Kohli's skill against different types of bowling. In Tests he has had his share of problems against seam and swing, but in this format he has been unstoppable against both pace and spin. He scores faster against pace and medium pace - his strike rate against them is 144.3 compared to 125.3 against spin - but he has a better average against spin - 92, compared to 47.18 against seam. However, he clearly had no problems against pace or spin in Australia, and given the ease and assurance with which he has been scoring runs in this format, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to claim he is the best batsman going around in T20Is.

Kohli against different bowler types in T20Is
Bowlers Runs Balls faced Average Strike Rate
 Right-arm pace  658  443  47.00  148.5
 Right-arm spin  334  255  83.50  130.8
 Left-arm pace  97  80  48.50  121.2
 Left-arm spin  126  112  126.00  112.5

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • john on February 9, 2016, 3:33 GMT

    gayle singlehandedly chased down 200+ on many occasions against top attacks, and they won the world T20. gayle draws crowds, people would see gayle hit 6's not kohli

  • Mic on February 7, 2016, 6:01 GMT

    According to this article, AB De Villiers would not rate in the top 100 players. In T20 cricket AB averages 22.88 with a strike rate of 125. There are bowlers who perform better than this. This is garbage of course. I fear AB, 10 times more than I fear Kohli. Kohli simply hogs batting time from players who do clear the fence regularly. I would take a Sehwag any day of the week. T20 is not about me me me.

  • Dennis on February 6, 2016, 17:01 GMT

    In T20 cricket stats does not matter. Fans do not care about stats other than fours ,sixes, quick runs , accurate bowling and brilliant fielding. What ever stats Kholi has is meaningless to T20 cricket. India is quickly becoming a T20 team, outside India they cannot win a test series, rarely win a 50 over series and may win a T20 series. Even though India has a larger selection of future players they are beginning to fall into the T20 cycle and beginning to separate themselves from test cricket scene, same as the West Indies once the best test side in the world now a T20 team. T20 has too many positives than test cricket, it has larger fan base,stadiums fill to capacity,more televising viewing, shorter version, more action, larger financial rewards for players and coaches. Players can play at almost five T20`s throughout the world and makes 10 times more money than test.

  •   Adnan Aslam on February 6, 2016, 11:33 GMT

    shahid afridi's states about balls/6 ..you did include the master blaster jusst chek out states 879 balls and 66 sixes balls/6= 13.18 his strike rate is 149

  •   Pushpak Aggarwal on February 6, 2016, 9:17 GMT

    This seems to be a clear case of using statistics to arrive at nonsensical conclusions. Make no mistake, Virat Kohli is my favorite Indian player and second overall, after AB but how does one justify using "highest balls per six" as a parameter to illustrate the low-risk (and hence, highly dependable I guess?) nature of a batsman? Kohli doesn't hit so many sixes simply because that's not his game while guys like AB, Baz and Gayle back themselves to comfortably clear the ropes and are successful, more often than not.

  • Rue on February 5, 2016, 23:39 GMT

    What a load of none sense, Kholi is a very fine player but breaking down how well he does in a Twenty overs match is ridiculous. Does the approach from any batsman really change that much in a T20 match no it doesn't. I appreciate that now Tendulker has retired Indian journalists feel obliged to hype another player but look at the tables of data presented, many of those players are not even playing T20i.

  • John on February 5, 2016, 22:35 GMT

    I don't care for T20 or the franchise leagues but even I know I would want him on my team in any game circumstance in any country. I would also want him on any nations ODI and test teams right now under the same parameters. I mean we are talking T20 here right...emphasis on the 'T'? I like the fact he has got a bit of mongrel in him too. By the time he is as grizzled as Border was when he left the shop he will be one of the grumpiest dudes around. Comparing todays batsmen with those of other times is worthless. Secretariat would have beaten American Pharaoh by a tick over 13 lengths in the Belmont winning Triple Crown victory last year in theory. But he also would have had to beat twice as many horses through the first two legs and raced on a slightly deeper track to be in a position to do so. With todays body armor, bats, roads, covers, bouncer laws etc. I think Bradman probably would have done ok in other parts of the world but Larwood/Voce would get smacked around. Progress (NOT)

  •   Ishaan Kapoor on February 5, 2016, 16:26 GMT

    For everyone saying Kohli can't play swing you all seem to conveniently forget about the series in New Zealand where he scored he heap of runs.

  • rustyryan on February 5, 2016, 15:47 GMT

    @ZONA: Lara never won a world cup and won only 33 test wins out of his 170 match career. Kohli won his first world cup and scored crucial 35 in the final and can easily overtake Lara's test wins. So your point?

  • vikram on February 5, 2016, 15:14 GMT

    I am amazed that out of all Kohli's achievements people somehow remember the only low point in his career - the England tour. I say what is the big deal with the England tour. What if he never tours England and still score heaps of runs all around the globe. Wouldn't he still be considered great at the end of his career? Even Dennis Lille had a poor record in the SC but he is still considered one of the all time greats. Don Bradman scored all his runs in two countries. Double standards!!