West Indies tri-series 2013 July 8, 2013

Virat Kohli and the art of ODI batting

Shiva Jayaraman
A look at how Virat Kohli paces his innings in ODIs, and how it has helped him in his success as a batsman in ODIs

Virat Kohli's century in India's third league match, against West Indies, in the tri-nation series was the second-fastest of his 14 ODI hundreds - it came off 81 balls. His second fifty took all of 26 balls, which is the lowest number of balls he has taken to go from 50 to 100. His innings was the best example of how he has mastered the art of pacing an ODI innings. Stats suggest that he has been one of the most successful ODI batsmen since his debut in August 2008. Kohli has aggregated 4345 ODI runs, the third most by any batsman in the last five years in ODIs. His career strike rate of 86.74 - a healthy one for the amount of runs he has scored - shows that he has managed to straddle the two aspects of ODI batting - scoring runs and scoring them fast - comfortably.

Over the last few years, the scoring rates for a couple of No.3 batsmen have been questioned, but Kohli has had no such problems. Among those who have batted in at least 20 innings at No.3 in the last five years, Kohli's strike rate is the highest.

A look at how Kohli's strike rates move over ten-over blocks of an innings, reveals a fair bit on how Kohli has a template for building and finishing his knocks. His innings have generally been characterised by slow, watchful starts, busy middle periods and explosive ends. This is corroborated by the progression of his batting strike rate through his innings. He is at his slowest at the start of an innings - scoring at a rate of 63.8 in the first ten overs of the innings. He is usually content in playing himself in during these periods - 71% of the balls he faces are dots. He hits a boundary only once in 12.4 balls during this period. In the next ten overs, his dot-ball percentage drops to 52%, but his boundary rate drops as well, possibly because of the lack of fielding restrictions.

Virat Kohli's batting stats - over-wise
Overs Inns 0s 1s 4s & 6s Runs Avg Cum avg SR dot-ball %age Balls/boundary  
1 to 10 70 778 193 89 704 10.1 10.1 63.8 71% 12.4  
11 to 20 75 838 577 113 1226 16.3 26.4 76.7 52% 14.2  
21 to 30 52 534 580 77 1092 21.0 47.4 86.5 42% 16.4  
31 to 40 35 303 344 111 952 27.2 74.6 117.7 38% 7.3  
41 to 50 18 75 93 52 371 20.6 95.2 155.2 31% 4.6  

Kohli's batting in the next ten overs (21-30) gives us an insight into how careful he is in building an innings; it's also an aspect that a batsman like Rohit Sharma would do well to learn from. Rohit tends to let his guard down after getting starts and throws his wicket away, but this doesn't happen with Kohli. This period is when he has taken minimum risks, hitting boundaries only once in 16.4 balls, the least through his innings, but still manages to score at 5.2 runs an over - thanks to the high percentage of singles he takes during this period. Nearly 53% of the balls he plays during these overs are taken for singles. No wonder then, Kohli has been dismissed on only 14 occasions between scores of 30 and 49 (14% of his total innings), the least when compared with other top No.3 batsmen. The next ten overs are when he breaks free. His boundaries now come at a much greater rate: one off every 7.3 balls. The last ten overs of his innings are when he is most destructive - boundaries off every 4.6 balls and only 31% dot balls.

Given the caution Kohli takes at the start of his innings it is obvious that his strike rate between overs 11 and 30, of 81 - which is quite healthy in itself - does not rank at the very top among batsmen. However, Kohli still manages to be among the top-ten batsmen in this regard. Considering that he has scored almost 500 runs more than the second batsman in the list, his scoring rate in these overs is certainly not a big disadvantage. Moreover, India have had bad starts (one down for less than 20) in 43 of the 93 matches since 2010, when Kohli has started batting at No.3 or at No.4, demanding a mature, risk-free start from the batsmen at the crease.

Top batsmen (strike rate) in overs 11 to 30 (min 1000 runs), last five years
Batsman Inns Runs Avg SR Dis
Shane Watson 52 1491 39.23 90.8 38
AB de Villiers 64 1819 69.96 87.7 26
Hashim Amla 42 1525 76.25 85.7 20
Gautam Gambhir 49 1575 60.57 85.5 26
Tillakaratne Dilshan 55 1706 46.10 83.2 37
Yuvraj Singh 56 1245 40.16 83.0 31
Virat Kohli 78 2318 56.63 81.0 41
Mohammad Hafeez 39 1045 37.32 81.0 28
Jacques Kallis 39 1196 62.94 77.8 19
Ricky Ponting 61 1576 41.47 76.7 38

The last 20 overs of the innings are when Kohli makes amends for his comparatively slow starts. Among batsmen with at least 1000 runs in these overs, Kohli's strike rate of 126.3 is second only to Shahid Afridi's. Compare this to the strike rate of 98.8 at which MS Dhoni - who is arguably the best finisher going around in this format - scores in these overs. Kohli definitely knows how and when to switch gears.

Top five batsmen (strike rate) in overs 31-50 (min 1000 runs)
Batsman Inns Runs Avg SR Dis
Shahid Afridi 61 1222 21.82 135.5 56
Virat Kohli 40 1323 49.00 126.3 27
AB de Villiers 43 1581 65.87 119.7 24
Suresh Raina 73 1929 38.58 116.8 50
Kieron Pollard 46 1073 26.31 115.0 41

The most important stat of all is Kohli's contribution in India wins. In the last five years, no other batsman has scored more in teams' wins than Kohli. Of Kohli's 14 ODI centuries, 13 have come in wins - the most hundreds any batsman has scored in wins in the last five years. His average in these games is among the top five in the last five years. Kohli has eight centuries in 39 successful chases he has been involved in. This is already the third-highest by any batsman, and he has taken fewer innings, by far, by any batsman to achieve this.

Top batsmen (Average) in wins (min 40 wins)
Batsman Inns NO Runs HS Avg SR 100 50
AB de Villiers 44 14 2528 134 84.26 105.9 9 17
Hashim Amla 44 4 2969 150 74.22 93.9 11 17
MS Dhoni 56 21 2397 124 68.48 91.3 2 17
Misbah-ul-Haq 41 17 1633 93* 68.04 72.5 0 15
Virat Kohli 63 14 3263 183 66.59 90.8 13 14

What these numbers indicate are that Kohli juggles between the roles of a No.3 batsman and a finisher quite efficiently - accumulating big runs that count, and at a rate that helps his team win matches.

Shiva Jayaraman is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo