Why Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman in the history of ODI cricket

Why Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman in the history of ODI cricket

When someone asks you who the greatest ODI batsman is, tell them that he responds to the name of Virat Kohli.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli. (Photo by Surjeet Yadav/Getty Images)

There is so much to talk about Virat Kohli. There is the ravishing cover drive from his blade that you can watch on a loop for days together, there is his nonchalant flick over mid-wicket that makes the bowlers shudder, and there is that effervescent straight drive where Kohli effortlessly sends the ball to the boundary with just a mere push.

But then, apart from the splendor and grace with which Kohli plays, we will have to ask a more pertinent question. And that is, is Virat Kohli the greatest batsman ever in the history of ODI cricket? Some might feel that Sachin Tendulkar should get the title of the ‘Greatest of all time’. There might also be people who might label Kumar Sangakkara as the undisputed batting great of ODI cricket.

But then, Virat Kohli has surpassed all the legends who have ever picked up a cricket bat. In this article, let us dig into some numbers to understand why Virat Kohli is the greatest batsman to have ever played the ODI format of the game.

Virat Kohli’s overall record places him at a pedestal none can reach

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India’s captain Virat Kohli. (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Virat Kohli has accumulated glittering numbers in ODI cricket, and these are numbers that no batsman, past or present can match. In the table below, let us take a look at the overall record of the top 6 highest run scorers in ODI cricket history.

Player Name Innings Runs Average 100s 50s 50+ Scores Innings per 50+ score
Sachin Tendulkar 452 18426 44.83 49 96 145 3.12
Kumar Sangakkara 380 14234 41.98 25 93 118 3.22
Ricky Ponting 365 13704 42.03 30 82 112 3.26
Sanath Jayasuriya 433 13430 32.36 28 68 96 4.51
Mahela Jayawardene 418 12650 33.37 19 77 96 4.35
Virat Kohli 245 12169 59.07 43 62 105 2.33

One look at the table is enough to see that Virat Kohli is way ahead of everybody else in the list. And, each of these names are titans in the world of cricket. Among batsmen with over 12000 runs in the ODI format of the game, Kohli is the only batsman to average over 50. In fact, Kohli averages 59.07 in ODI cricket, and the closest that any batsman can come from the above list is Sachin Tendulkar, and he averages only 44.83.

Another stunning fact is, Kohli has already recorded more fifty-plus scores than all-time batting greats like Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene. While Jayasuriya played 188 innings more than Kohli, Jayawardene played 173 innings more than the current Indian skipper.

Also, Kohli’s innings per fifty-plus score is an insane 2.33. And, no other batsman who has scored over 12000 runs in ODI cricket has an innings per fifty-plus score ratio of even less than 3.00. It is clear that Kohli’s records place him at a level nobody can reach, even Tendulkar.

Virat Kohli in a run chase – No batsman can match his prowess

Virat Kohli World T20
(Photo Source: Getty Images)

Just tell Virat Kohli that there is a stiff target to be chased, and he will be pumped up. In fact, cricketing folklore is studded with several innings from Kohli’s willow that just unshackle the mind. The 133* that Kohli plundered at Hobart is straight out of a fairytale.

India needed to chase a target of 321 inside 40 overs against Sri Lanka to stay in contention in a Tri-Series that also involved Australia. And, with Virender and Sachin Tendulkar back in the pavilion, Kohli scored a ravishing 133* to allow India to chase down the target in just 36.4 overs.

Apart from the classic 133* at Hobart, Kohli’s 183* against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup, his spine-tingling 154* against New Zealand at Mohali in 2016, and his 122 against England in 2017 are knocks of a totally different breed.

In the table below, let us take a look at the performances of the top 6 run-getters in a run chase in ODI cricket to draw further conclusions.

Player Name Innings in a Chase Runs in a Chase Average in a Chase 100s in a chase 50s in a chase
Sachin Tendulkar 232 8720 42.33 17 52
Kumar Sangakkara 161 5400 40.30 7 33
Ricky Ponting 153 5074 41.93 8 32
Sanath Jayasuriya 210 5742 29.45 10 30
Mahela Jayawardene 176 5150 35.03 6 28
Virat Kohli 136 7149 68.09 26 33

Oof! Kohli is just way ahead of everybody else in the list. Each of these names has shone brightly in the sport. And for Kohli to just outshine all the others by such a huge margin speaks volumes about his ability.

Kohli averages an astounding 68.09 in an ODI run chase. And, the closest that anybody comes from the list is Sachin Tendulkar, and he averages 42.33. The current Indian skipper has also scored 26 hundreds in a run chase, and even if we add up the combined tally of the three Sri Lankan batsmen in the list, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, and Sangakkara, they will still fall short of the number of centuries that Kohli has scored in a chase.

Yes, people can talk about rules changing in favor of the batsmen, but the numbers that Kohli has generated put him at a totally different stratosphere.

Virat Kohli’s numbers in a win – Absolutely mind-boggling

Virat Kohli. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Fans of Sachin Tendulkar will remember the 175 that he scored against Australia in the year 2009. For all the mastery that Tendulkar exhibited in that classic that will stay on in the minds of fans for posterity, this knock is also remembered as a tragic one, as in spite of Tendulkar’s effort with the willow, India still lost the match.

The ‘God of Cricket’ could not take India past the finish line. But then, Kohli is different. He is a fighter. And, he is a fighter who will not stop till the job is done. In the table below, let us once again analyze the numbers generated by the members of the exclusive 12000-run club in ODI cricket.

Player Name Innings in a win Runs in a win Average in a Win 100s in a win 50s in a win
Sachin Tendulkar 231 11157 56.63 33 59
Kumar Sangakkara 201 8301 48.54 18 54
Ricky Ponting 254 10726 49.20 25 69
Sanath Jayasuriya 228 8873 41.26 24 43
Mahela Jayawardene 219 7874 42.33 16 45
Virat Kohli 149 8715 76.44 35 38

Read this table again. Virat Kohli’s numbers in a win are simply mind-boggling. In 149 innings, Kohli has scored a whopping 8715 runs and averages 76.44 in a win. And, the next man on the list is Sachin Tendulkar, who averages 56.63 in a win in ODI cricket. In other words, Kohli averages almost 20 points higher than the next man on the list.

In spite of being the only batsman to have played less than 200 innings in a win in ODI cricket in the above list, Kohli has scored the most number of hundreds (35) in a win. It has been established beyond doubt that Kohli is a colossus of the ODI format of the game.

The Crown Jewel of Virat Kohli’s greatness

Virat Kohli. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Now, let us come to the important part. A batsman’s greatness can be truly judged by his ability to mould his game in different parts of the world, as each country that a batsman plays in, has its own challenges. In the table below, let us take a look at Virat Kohli’s record in every country that he has played in the ODI format of the game.

Country Innings Runs Average Strike Rate 100s 50s
Australia 29 1327 51.04 89.06 5 6
Bangladesh 15 970 80.83 100.21 5 3
England 31 1316 54.83 91.90 1 12
India 95 4994 60.17 96.60 19 25
New Zealand 13 596 49.67 91.41 1 4
South Africa 15 877 87.70 90.23 3 4
Sri Lanka 23 899 47.32 85.95 4 2
West Indies 17 825 58.93 91.56 4 3
Zimbabwe 7 365 60.83 84.88 1 3

One look at the table will help us understand how good Kohli has been in every country that he has wielded his willow in ODIs. In fact, in 7 out of the 9 countries that Kohli has played ODI cricket in, the batting icon averages more than 50. And, in none of the countries does Kohli even average below 45 as well.

Also, he has scored at least one century in each and every country that he has played ODI cricket in. Here, a few comparisons with other batting legends will surely throw more light into the discussion. Sachin Tendulkar averaged below 40 in 5 countries in ODI cricket. Ricky Ponting averaged below 35 in 4 countries, Kumar Sangakkara averaged below 40 in 6 countries. Sanath Jayasuriya averaged less than 30 in 4 countries, and Mahela Jayawardene averaged less than 30 in as many as 7 countries.

Well, we are not done yet. Let us compare Kohli with some of his contemporaries like Rohit Sharma and David Warner. Rohit Sharma averages less than 40 in 6 countries, whereas David Warner averages less than 40 in 3 countries.

And surely, no batsman has been consistent in every country that he had played ODI cricket in, as Virat Kohli. Surely, this is the crown jewel that makes Kohli the greatest ODI willow wielder of all time.

In Conclusion

Virat Kohli’s prolific run in ODI cricket has not been matched by even a single batsman in the history of the game. Kohli’s overall numbers are astounding, his record in an ODI run chase is phenomenal, and his contribution in a win is exemplary.

Also, Kohli has proven himself in every single country that he has played ODI cricket in. And so, when someone asks you who the greatest ODI batsman is, tell them that he is the current captain of the Indian cricket team, is aged 32, and responds to the name of Virat Kohli.

Note: All the stats have been taken from Howstat cricket and Cricinfo and have been updated as on 25th May 2021