The last two years have been outstanding ones for Virat Kohli the ODI batsman. For some time now he has been one of several young players India have tried to fill one of their middle-order spots, but unlike some of the others, Kohli has gone ahead and grabbed his chances so emphatically that he is now one of the certainties in the starting XI.
Since the beginning of 2009, Kohli has scored 1320 runs at an average touching 49, thus making him one of the best ODI performers during this period. Among Indians, only MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir have scored more runs, while Kohli's average of 48.88 has been bettered by seven batsmen in all.
One of the most impressive aspects of Kohli's batting has been his ability to convert starts, and to go on and make big hundreds. In these last two years, three batsmen have scored more ODI centuries than Kohli's four - Tillakaratne Dilshan (seven), AB de Villiers (six) and Hashim Amla (five). In only 40 matches Kohli has already won four Man-of-the-Mach awards, which isn't a bad rate of notching up these awards.
One of the most impressive aspects of the way Kohli has shaped up has been his handling of the middle overs. That's a period when batsmen are expected to rotate the strike, play risk-free cricket, and yet score at a good clip. Kohli has managed all of those aspects pretty well, which is what makes him such a good No.3 batsman.
Between overs 16 and 40, Kohli has scored 867 runs from 960 balls, for an average of 61.92 and a run-rate of 5.41 per over. Moreover, of those 960 balls, he hasn't scored off only 412, which is a very low percentage of 42.92. Among batsmen who've scored at least 750 runs in the middle overs, only de Villiers has a lower dot-ball percentage (36.75). In terms of averages too Kohli is right up there, with only three batsmen having a higher average.
A stand-out features of Kohli's short career so far has been the manner in which he has handled pressure, especially the pressure of run-chases. In the 23 innings when he has batted second in ODIs, Kohli averages 60.35, at a strike rate of almost 84. Some of his most memorable performances have come when India have been confronted with tough run-chases: at Eden Gardens against Sri Lanka a year back, India were struggling at 23 for 2 chasing 316, when Kohli scored 107 and combined with Gambhir to take India to victory. A couple of months back against Australia he was at it again, scoring 118 - his highest ODI score - to help India overcome a run-chase of 290 after they'd lost their first two wickets for only 35. Of the four centuries he has scored, three have come when batting second.
When batting first he averages only 30.20, which is almost exactly half his average when chasing. However, there are indications he is improving there as well - his last innings when batting first was 105, against New Zealand three weeks ago.
In the last two years, Kohli's average when batting second is one of the best, with only de Villiers and Gambhir doing better.
Over the last two years India have tried out a number of young batsmen or allrounders to fill in some of their middle-order slots, and with his consistent performances Kohli has clearly gone a few paces ahead of his competitors. Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Murali Vijay have been among those who've fallen behind and failed to make the most of their chances. Kohli, on the other hand, has done enough to earn for himself a regular place in the first XI of the Indian one-day team. The next challenge for him will be to break into the Test side. He'll surely get an opportunity, given the age of the current middle-order stalwarts and the recent failures of Suresh Raina. How he handles those opportunities will determine if Kohli can take his international career to the next level.