Two of the biggest names in Indian cricket, Virat Kohli
and Rohit Sharma
, are set to face off in opening match of IPL 2021. How do they stack up against each other in terms of IPL batting and captaincy? Here's the lowdown.
Sharma has been part of a record six victorious campaigns (with Deccan Chargers and Mumbai Indians), including five as Mumbai Indians captain. Under Sharma, Mumbai Indians have been the league's most successful franchise, winning 68 out of 116 matches. However, Sharma's performance with the bat as captain is not exceptional. He averages 30.25 as captain, against 32.91 without the captaincy tag. Kohli is one of four IPL captains with 100-plus caps - he is the only one on this list to not win the title.
Kohli's overall win-loss record as IPL captain isn't great either. The Royal Challengers have won only 55 out of 125 matches under him. However, as a batsman, there are not many who can match Kohli's consistency and impact. He is the leading run-getter in the competition and also holds the record for most runs as captain. Kohli's average as captain of 43.88 is second only to David Warner's (49.01) among those with 1000-plus runs as captain, and well ahead of his IPL average before he started leading the Royal Challengers (26.96).
Impact on the team with the bat
Mumbai Indians are far less dependent on Sharma the batsman than the Royal Challengers on Kohli. While Sharma has moved himself around the batting order, Kohli is a top-order specialist. Only four times has he batted outside the top three for the Royal Challengers, contributing 22.93% of the team's runs overall.
On the other hand, more than 40% of Sharma's captaincy career has been spent batting outside the top three. He stuck to the opening spot in the last two seasons, but has not achieved high levels of consistency or volume of runs. However, when he makes significant scores, the chances of Mumbai Indians winning are higher: only seven of his 22 fifties as captain have resulted in defeats, and he was Player of the Match on 12 out of the 15 occasions when he scored fifties in wins.
Kohli, too, has been a key contributor in the Royal Challengers' wins, scoring one-fourth of the team's tally in those matches. Kohli's batting average as captain in wins shoots up to 64.02, with four centuries and 15 fifties in 55 victories.
How they build their innings
The playing styles of Sharma and Kohli are quite similar, if you look at their scoring rates in various phases of an IPL innings. Both score at a strike rate of a little over 110 in the powerplays and at 120-plus during the middle overs. In the last four overs, their strike rates go up to two runs a ball: Sharma scores at 198.26, Kohli at 205.52.
Both players are relatively slow off the blocks, and like to settle in before shifting into higher gears. While there is a risk factor to this approach - the team suffers if the batsman gets out well into this period but before teeing off - the upside is very high if they convert those starts: among Indian players, the strike rates of Kohli and Sharma in the death overs occupy the top two places (with a minimum cut-off of 500 runs). Overall, only AB de Villiers (233.08) and Andre Russell (218.03) strike at a quicker rate than them in this period.
Much like the strike rates, their balls-per-boundary and dot-ball percentage are also similar. While Kohli plays fewer dots across the three phases of an innings (46%, 29% and 21% from start to finish respectively, to Sharma's 52%, 32% and 25%), Sharma edges the boundary count in the powerplays (one boundary every 5.6 balls, to Kohli's 6). Overall in their IPL careers, Sharma's dot-ball percentage is 36.16 to Kohli's 33.62, but he hits a boundary once every 5.96 balls to Kohli's 6.38.
How to - possibly - keep them quiet
Legspinners have been the go-to bowlers for IPL teams when they are up against Sharma and Kohli. Sharma, in general, has struggled against legspin - his struggles on this front particularly stuck out in the 2017 edition, when he was dismissed six times by legspinners after returning from a six-month injury break. In his IPL career, Sharma has an average of 27.13 against legspinners and a strike rate of 113.24.
While there is a perception that Kohli is weak against legspin, the numbers tell a different story. He averages 53.56 and strikes at 142.35 against this type of bowling. However, Kohli's tendency to fall to legspin has increased recently. During the recent T20I series against England, he got out only twice in five matches, both times to the legspin of Adil Rashid. In the last three IPL seasons, Kohli been dismissed six times by legspinners, but still averages 48.83 against them. However, his strike rate against this type of bowling in this period is 124.68 - it was 153.67 in the first ten seasons. In the last two IPL seasons, Kohli faced 58 googlies and was dismissed twice.
Rather than legspin, the numbers suggest left-arm pace has been Kohli's weak spot in the IPL: he averages just 23.45 and strikes at 132.66 against these bowlers, and is dismissed once every 17 balls against them.
Sampath Bandarupalli is a statistician at ESPNcricinfo