virat-kohli
Illustration: Vasim Maner

Virat Kohli’s upward surge in the last couple of years is one of the great stories in cricket history. Even though it is still a developing story for at least a year more, and this piece will inevitably be incomplete, it still has something ostensibly surprising to say.

There were always signs of Kohli being a special player. In fact, in Impact Index’s first book that released a few days ago, we tell the story of 22-year-old Virat Kohli doing the job of a veteran in the 2011 World Cup-winning Indian side, not something he is remembered for now (he absorbed the most pressure among Indian batsmen in that tournament). An earlier version of Impact Index (in 2012) was the first entity to capture Virat Kohli’s most special quality when it comes to limited overs cricket – this piece came out three days before his famous innings at Hobart, that led to the world hailing his chasing ability.

So, what we are going to suggest in this piece is also something no one has spoken of before. Perhaps, yet again, Kohli’s performances will make the world catch on, even if belatedly. He needs to do it, not just in this series against Australia but in South Africa and England too later. But, that doesn’t mean we cannot talk about what is already apparent, or should be.


MODEST BEGINNINGS

Kohli made his Test debut after the 2011 World Cup win, as older legends began to wind down and a new Indian side slowly started taking shape. Between then and December 2014, Kohli managed to come up as the fourth-highest impact batsman (after Pujara, Dravid and Vijay) only because Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir were comprehensively fading out. Kohli’s 52% failure did not flatter him.

Despite centuries in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and a bunch of good scores at home, Kohli was rightly just seen as a talented Test batsman who seemed more promising than outstanding, as he clearly was in ODI cricket. Teammates like Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay contributed more to India’s Test success than he did.

Things really began to change from when Kohli became Test captain, in Australia, from December 2014 (when he made a century in both innings in the series opener). From then, till now (just before the series against Australia began), Kohli’s Test batting impact increased by almost 75% – a stunning rise, that has seen him become the second-highest impact batsman (after Younis Khan) since then, with a mere 30% failure rate and the highest proportion of runs scored among anyone in the world. In conventional terms, he averages 65 in 23 Tests, which is a telling cue anyway, but not a definitive one.

If we consider just the period after December 2015 till now, he is the highest impact batsman in the world. He entered a purple patch in his career from then, and began to produce performances in all formats that inspired collective gasps of awe.


INDIA’S SECOND HIGHEST IMPACT TEST BATSMAN

Our book has its figures updated only till November 5, 2016. Post that, India played England in a five Test series, where Kohli was the Man-of-the-Series (and also registered a series-defining performance ). He also crossed a tally of fifty Tests with this series, thus becoming eligible for the main all-time list.

In the book, India’s highest impact batsmen are Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and GR Viswanath. But, given the England series and the solitary Test against Bangladesh (not a mean side in the subcontinent anymore), Kohli has overtaken Tendulkar to become the second highest impact Indian Test batsman, after Dravid. If he has as good a series against Australia as he did against England, he will run Dravid very close, and may even overtake him as India’s highest impact Test batsman, at least for now.

This is stunning, because his reasons for reaching these exalted heights are very different from Dravid’s.


PROLIFIC DOMINANCE

Dravid, along with Inzamam-ul-Haq, produced the highest number of series-defining performances in Test history (8 apiece, though Inzamam did it in fewer Tests).

Whereas Kohli had not produced a single series-defining Test performance in his career until this recent England series.

Actually, it is Kohli’s prodigious ability to score a high proportion of runs for his team that has brought him to these heights. Along with Cheteshwar Pujara, who shares this quality with him, Kohli has led the batting side of the number one Test side in the world. The two of them, along with R. Ashwin, occupy exalted positions in Test history already. Of course, they all have much to prove in overseas conditions still, Kohli particularly in England. But, their exploits as a unit have emphatically made them the number one Test side in the world, after a prolonged home season.


AMONG THE BEST IN TEST HISTORY

In fact, staggeringly, when it comes to Runs Tally Impact (besides measuring the proportion of runs match-by-match for a batsman, this also provides a higher value for the more important runs, like, say, in an innings defeat), Kohli is in an exalted position. Only four batsmen in Test history have scored a higher proportion of runs than him (minimum 50 Tests) – Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Neil Harvey and Steve Smith (another all-time great career unfolding here – already the most consistent batsman in Test history).

Since Kohli’s debut in June 2011 till the New Zealand home series in September 2016 (post that there was a conscious effort to not produce dustbowls, Pune notwithstanding), batsmen averaged just 29.46 in India, the lowest in the world after the West Indies (who, of course, have had a much weaker side as well). Kohli’s average of 46 therefore assumes greater significance, given this.

In fact, without taking series-defining performances into account, he is India’s highest impact Test batsman, and the fifth-highest in Test history after Don Bradman, Steve Smith, Jack Hobbs and Brian Lara.

And, when it comes to other parameters, Kohli compares favourably with his most illustrious countrymen.

He has built the most partnerships in Indian Test history, only after Rahul Dravid.

He has absorbed the most pressure (of falling wickets) only after GR Viswanath and Chandu Borde. Only Steve Smith has scored a higher proportion of runs under the pressure of falling wickets in Test history than Kohli.

He has also been the most consistent Indian Test batsman, only after Gavaskar, Dravid and Tendulkar.

Three Indian batsmen have been more consistent than him – the big three – Gavaskar, Dravid and Tendulkar. However, on an average, Kohli produces a high impact performance once every 5 Tests, the best such ratio for any batsman in India’s Test history. Dravid follows him with one such performance every 7 Tests. On a world stage, only Bradman (once every 2 innings), Harvey (4), Hutton (4), Hayden and AB de Villiers (4) have a better ratio than Kohli.

Among non-openers, when it comes to seeing off the new ball ( New Ball Impact ), he has done it better than anyone besides Dravid, Mohinder Amarnath and Tendulkar. Again, that is remarkable for a No. 4 batsman, which leads on to the most staggering moment of this piece.


THE THIRD HIGHEST IMPACT NO. 4 IN TEST HISTORY

If we consider 25 Tests in this position as the minimum, only Greg Chappell and Everton Weekes have had a higher impact from the No. 4 position in Test history. And, if we discount series-defining performances (which we shouldn’t, but just to illustrate), then Kohli is the highest impact No. 4 batsman in history.

There’s more. From this position, only Neil Harvey has scored a higher proportion of runs than Kohli. In terms of Partnership-Building Impact , only Norman O’Neill is higher from the number 4 spot than Kohli.

No batsman in Test history has scored a higher proportion of runs under pressure from the number 4 position than Virat Kohli.

That is how significant Virat Kohli is, to Indian Test history. He is an all-time great batsman already; no Indian batsman has come close to this kind of impact in Test history. He makes the adulation for Tendulkar look like vacant hype, if we consider significance in a team context in Test cricket.


ADDITIONALLY A LIMITED OVERS GIANT

Kohli is an all-time great ODI batsman as well. If we do not consider longevity, he is higher impact than even Tendulkar. Amongst Indians, he is the best in all parameters except one (strike rate) – building partnerships, chasing, absorbing pressure, consistency and proportion of runs scored.

When it comes to the last, he is among the world’s best-ever – seventh in ODI history, after Viv Richards, Hashim Amla, Gordon Greenidge, Jonathan Trott, Geoff Marsh and Dean Jones.

When it comes to chasing, he is still the world’s best, by a distance.

Moreover, he is the highest impact T20I batsman in the world as well – primarily for scoring the highest proportion of runs as well, and for being the most consistent, by a distance (18% failure rate; next lowest is Kevin Pietersen with 26%). In every 2.5 T20I matches, Kohli produces a high impact performance – the best ratio in world cricket.

And in all T20s (domestic and internationals), he has built more partnerships than anyone in the world, scored a higher proportion of runs than anyone else, been the most consistent, and hell, if you take out tournament-defining performances (which you really shouldn’t but just to illustrate again), he is the highest impact T20 batsman ever as well.

Impact Index was the first to call Rahul Dravid the most significant Test batsman India ever had. We are not holding back with Virat Kohli either.

Whether his career eventually bears the overly-esteemed stamp of longevity or not, and whether that eventually brings his overall impact down or not, right now, Kohli is not potentially an all-time great, but already one.

 

 

Jaideep Varma/ Soham Sarkhel