Virat Kohli's extraordinary exploits in ODI chases has made this one of the hot topics going around today. Quite justifiably, he is in the mix when discussing the best in this business: he averages 67.10 in chases, which is nearly ten more than the next best (with a 1000-run cut-off), and has 19 centuries, which is already better than Sachin Tendulkar's 17 in less than half as many innings. And all this at a strike rate of nearly 94.
However, it is also true that Kohli has racked up all these numbers in an era where batsmen are prolific, and in a team that has other top batsmen as well. Kartikeya Date eloquently argued that Kohli isn't as far ahead of his peers as Richards and Tendulkar were compared to theirs, and then also did an interesting piece on Kohli v Tendulkar in chases, which suggested that the real difference in numbers during their eras owed to the support each received from the other batsmen in the side: Tendulkar, especially during his best years, received far less support in chases than Kohli has.
The methodology Date used looked at runs scored in 300 balls by the player in chases, compared to runs scored by his fellow batsmen in the same number of deliveries. In calculating the player runs in 300 balls, though, Date looked largely at strike rates, extrapolating the same into a 300-ball score, with the rider that the batsman faced at least 30 balls per dismissal. (In cases where the balls-per-dismissal figure was lower, the batsman's runs per dismissal was multiplied by 10 to arrive at a 300-ball score.) According to this method, Kohli's 300-ball total came to 280, compared to Tendulkar's 263.
The method rewards batsmen with higher strike rates, but it ignores the value of balls faced per dismissal, beyond the minimum cut-off of 30. Given that Kohli's balls per dismissal was 68.2 and Tendulkar's 45.6, it means Kohli only gets out 4.4 times in 300 balls, compared to Tendulkar's 6.6 times. Comparing the two is like comparing 4.4 completed innings by Kohli, to 6.6 completed innings by Tendulkar.
Here is an alternative method to compare performances in run chases. The three factors considered here are:
The runs-scored factor: calculated by dividing the runs scored by the batsman by the runs scored by his team-mates, in chases
The strike-rate factor: calculated by dividing the batsman's strike rate by that of his team-mates in chases
The runs-per-innings factor: calculated by dividing the runs scored per innings by the batsman by the runs scored per innings by his team mates
All these numbers are for batsmen who have scored 2000-plus runs in chases in ODIs against the eight oldest Test teams, and in chases where the target is 150 or more (to exclude easy chases of low targets where one player makes the bulk of the runs). Also, the team numbers exclude the innings in which the batsman didn't bat.
Each of these factors measures a key aspect that defines the batsman's proficiency in a chase. The percentage of runs scored and strike rate are fairly intuitively understood, while runs per innings illustrates how prolific a batsman is compared to his peers.
Imagine this scenario: a batsman scores 125 in a chase of 250 and the team wins with an over to spare, but in one case the team loses only two wickets getting there, while in the other it loses nine. The runs per innings will incorporate the fact that, in the second case, the batsman performed way better than his team-mates. Since each of these factors is a ratio, multiplying the three gives a figure that is the batsman's chase index.
In his piece, Date had pointed out, with some justification, that Tendulkar's long career could easily be split into two, to acknowledge the fact that in the first part he was the key member of the line-up, receiving not much support from his mates, while in the second part he had more support while his own contributions diminished. Continuing with that premise, this piece also lists two time periods for Tendulkar, but with a slightly different timeline: the first part of his career starts from the time he began opening the batting, on March 27, 1994, and continues for ten years, till March 2004. That was when Tendulkar was outstanding as an ODI player. The second part is the rest of his career, when he was less influential in the batting line-up.
The top ten overall list below indicates just how good Tendulkar 1.0 was. In that ten-year period from March 1994 to March 2004, his numbers in chases were outstanding. He scored 27% of the runs that all his team-mates scored, his strike rate was 1.26 times as good, and he scored more than twice as many runs per innings as his team-mates. Kohli's percentage runs contribution is slightly higher, but his strike-rate factor isn't quite as good, which indicates the other Indian batsmen have scored pretty quickly too, taking some of the pressure off him. He too scores twice as many runs per innings as his mates, though the ratio is slightly lower than Tendulkar's.
Viv Richards' strike-rate factor stands out - it is incredible that he scored at a rate of 87 when others around him managed only 63 - but the other factors aren't quite as good because he was part of an extremely strong batting line-up that included Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson and Clive Lloyd, among others. These numbers are also a factor of the strength of the rest of the batting line-up, which is where some of the batsmen who are part of a strong outfit, lose out slightly. That, in fact, makes the efforts of Richards and Kohli even more worthy.
Tendulkar's overall career numbers are also good enough for a top-ten spot, but his numbers dipped considerably after March 2004: his runs factor was 0.19, his strike rate 1.06, and his runs per innings 1.43, giving him a total score of 0.28, which was good enough only to put him at No. 35.
Doing the same exercise but for wins only (with the 1000-run cut-off), the top spot goes, slightly surprisingly, to Pakistan's Saeed Anwar, who tops Kohli, Tendulkar and Richards with a chase index of 0.91. Greenidge moves up to No. 4 on the strength of very strong run contributions: unlike many batsmen who preferred batting first, Greenidge enjoyed the chase, averaging almost 50 when batting second, and more than 62 in second-innings wins.
Since each of the factors in this piece compares player performances with those of their team-mates, this obviously helps the stats of players who played in weaker batting line-ups. Even so, these numbers throw up some interesting numbers in the Richards v Tendulkar v Kohli debate, showing just how good Tendulkar was at his best, and why Kohli thoroughly deserves to be in the mix when discussing the best run-chasers.