To say Virat Kohli is one of the best one-day batsmen today is an understatement; he may well be the best. The player whom Ray Jennings, coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, once termed "a very talented kid [who] sometimes thinks he is better than the game,” is very much at ease with himself after a stellar last two seasons in ODI cricket. From marking his World Cup debut with a century to reeling off 596 runs in his last five innings, Kohli is a transformed player.
Kohli’s ODI graph has headed only one way since he made his debut against Sri Lanka in the summer of 2008 – upwards. He was given all five matches in August of that year and scored 159 runs at 31.80, with one half-century. His next call-up came in September 2009, and Kohli made 325 runs from ten matches at 54.16, including a maiden century and two fifties. In 2010 he featured regularly for India in ODIs, playing 25 matches from January to December and returning 995 runs at 47.48, with three centuries and seven half-centuries.
This run of form booked Kohli a place in the 2011 World Cup, and by marking his tournament debut he refused to look back. He was 2011’s highest run-scorer with 1381 at 47.62 from 34 matches, with four centuries and eight fifties. In fact, he started and ended the year with half-centuries.
In 2012, the 23-year-old has been phenomenal. In just 12 matches he has amassed 836 runs at 76.00, with four centuries and three half-centuries. His last five innings have been 133*, 108, 66, 183, 106; against Sri Lanka, he has now scored four 50-plus innings in a row – three of which have been centuries. He is the third-highest run-getter in 2012 behind Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who have both played 25 matches compared to Kohli’s 12. Nobody has more hundreds than Kohli this year either.
Since Kohli made himself a regular in India’s ODI setup in 2010, he has scored 3537 runs at 52.79; no other batsman has scored more runs in the last three years. The next best, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara, is 181 runs shy of Kohli’s mark. No batsman has scored more centuries in the last three years than Kohli, who has 12 to his name December 2009 when he reached three figures for the first time in one-day cricket.
Kohli’s record in the past two years, especially, has been remarkable and his stats reflect that he was worked out the 50-over format perfectly. He is easily the highest run-scorer here too, with 2614 runs at 54.45 from 55 matches. In his period, Kohli’s tally of fours (244) is the highest for all ODI batsmen and his strike-rate (89.12) is only bettered by Shane Watson (96.75), Hashim Amla (94.19) and Gautam Gambhir (89.53) for top-order – No’s 1 to 3 – batsmen with a cut-off of at least 35 matches.
In five completed series since the 2011 World Cup, Kohli has been astonishingly consistent: he has averaged 90 or more in two, and more than fifty in two more. In each of these series Kohli achieved a strike-rate of 84 or more. Against England at home his strike-rate was 91.52; against West Indies at home it was 95.29; in the CB Series 92.78 over eight matches; and in the Asia Cup 102.
Kohli has made the No. 3 slot his own in the 50-over format (he averages 49.78 batting one-drop). In India, he averages 50.48 (five centuries) and away, 43.34 (four centuries). Outside of Asia, his average is 47 with two centuries at Cardiff and Hobart.
What is also impressive about Kohli is the manner in which he scored his runs. He hasn’t been unconventional like Watson, AB de Villiers or Brendon McCullum have; instead, he has stuck to conventional shots, mostly presenting a full face of the bat to the ball. His driving down the ground and through the offside has been pleasing for its authenticity, and Kohli is one of the best pullers in the Indian team today. The shot he has made his own is the whiplash-flick through and over midwicket, a shot hit with incredible bat-speed but minimal fuss and not packed with power. He has also showed good skill against spin, most always using his feet to come forward and play the ball down the ground.
If Kohli continues such form throughout the year, the Indian team’s graph could head upwards too.