Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar: A 12-year international cricket comparison

Suvajit Mustafi
Saturday, 22 August 2020

Despite the constant comparisons, the career paths of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have followed different trajectories yet remain similar on many counts.

Despite the constant comparisons, the career paths of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have followed different trajectories yet remain similar on many counts. Run-machines, both found success earlier in their career and went on to become the batting backbones of India during their prolong peaks. What set them apart was the ability to thrive under all conditions and adapt without compromising on their run-making abilities. Though Tendulkar and Kohli's careers have coincided for five years, they have had their peaks in different eras and therefore, it's not wise to make a comparison and come to a conclusion. However, for a fan, it's definitely an exciting nugget when you compare a great player A versus a great player B after a similar point of time in their careers.

Both Tendulkar and Kohli, made their India debut in their teens. Tendulkar was 16 when he first played for India, meanwhile, Kohli was an adult, 19. However, Kohli had to wait until he turned 22 to play Test cricket. He had to break into a side that were No.1 in Tests and boasted a line-up that included Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni. Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh were competing for the slot left vacant by Sourav Ganguly, and youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane were banging the team door. 

Unlike Tendulkar, Kohli wasn’t earmarked as a teenage prodigy even before he played for India. He was still a known face when he walked out to bat on his international debut. Earlier in 2008, he had led India to the Under-19 World Cup win. He had also played for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL).

Tendulkar’s inherent abilities were on display ever since the world got a glimpse of him in 1989. From facing the lethal Pakistani pace attack with a bloodied nose to taking on Abdul Qadir to saving a Test in England after smashing a century at 17, the fraternity knew India had unearthed a batting great. 

For Kohli, even making a cut to the ODI side was a massive challenge. Tendulkar remained in sublime form. There was Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Rainaand Dhoni. Rohit was being looked at as a long-term prospect, and Yusuf Pathan’s X-factor would lure the selectors. During the same time, Rahul Dravid was recalled to the ODI setup.Dinesh Karthik, Shikhar Dhawan, Manoj Tiwary and S Badrinath were trying to squeeze into the limited room. The only option Kohli had was to perform in the limited opportunities he got. He did that to be where he is. 

If Tendulkar was about talent meeting dedication, Kohli is hard work date with ambition. On August 18, 2020, Kohli completed 12 years of international cricket. No batsman has been as successful as the Indian captain since his international debut. He has almost 21,000 international runs and to give you a perspective; no other batsman even has 17,000 in the same timeframe. Therefore, this comparison.Let’s see where Tendulkar was after 12 years of international cricket (November 14, 2001).

ODI career after the first 12 years

 

Age

Matches

Innings

Runs

Ave

HS

SR

100s

50s

Kohli

31

248

239

11,867

59.33

183

93.25

43

58

Tendulkar

28

280

272

10,803

43.73

186*

86.49

31

53

Kohli clearly bosses the numbers here. But we can’t go on to conclude anything from this. Unlike Kohli, Tendulkar would bat in the middle-order during the start of his career. It was only in 1994, his fifth year of international cricket when he started opening regularly. During this phase, Tendulkar played 81 innings from No.4 to 7. For Kohli, the number would be 48. During Tendulkar’s first 12 years, the average batting average for batsmen would be in the late 20s with the average strike-rate being in early 70s. During Kohli's era, the average shoots up to the early 30s and the strike-rate to mid-80s.The gulf between Kohli and other batsmen in terms of average is enormous. However, Tendulkar was miles ahead of batsmen during his time when it came to scoring at a faster rate. 

Another unspoken factor that shadows Tendulkar’s greatness is the fact that he played many ODIs against the red ball. Scoring freely against the cherry in the morning conditions is a different proposition altogether. Playing in morning conditions in a Toronto or England would be a different challenge. Tendulkar would more often go on to champion that. The other arguable fact is whether or not Tendulkar got his runs against better bowlers?

Tendulkar vs other ODI batting giants during his first 12 years
Cut-off 3,000 runs

Only seven batsmen had a strike-rate above 80 during this time – Tendulkar, Shahid Afridi, Adam Gilchrist, Chris Cairns, Sanath Jayasuriya, Saeed Anwar and Aravinda de Silva. The only batsmen in this list to have a strike-rate better than Tendulkar (86.49) wereAfridi (99.30), Gilchrist (89.42) and Jayasuriya (88.89), but they averaged18, 8 and 13 points lesser respectively.

The only batsmen who averaged more than Tendulkar (43.79) during this phase were Michael Bevan (57.27), Dean Jones (45.05), Sourav Ganguly (44.08) and Jacques Kallis (43.90), but their runs came at a strike-rate of 75.40, 70.29, 73.60 and 68.72 respectively. 

Kohli vs other ODI batting giants during his first 12 years
Cut-off 3,000 runs

Since Kohli’s debut till date, 42 batsmen have had a strike-rate of over 80. The advent of T20s has changed ODIs. In fact, seven batsmen in this list have a strike-rate above 100! As many as 12 batsmen have a strike-rate better than Kohli’s. The only batsman to average higher than Kohli is AB de Villiers. The South African averaged 60.90 during this time at a strike-rate of 106.8. Jos Buttler is another batsman who has made a massive impact. He averages close to 41 with a strike-rate touching 120!

Has Kohli been the best ODI batsman of his generation? Arguably, yes. Especially when you consider his longevity and consistency. Some would even go with AB for his sheer impact. Babar Azam, Joe Root, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Hashim Amla, Ross Taylor, David Warner, Quinton de Kock, etc. have been phenomenal, but I would pick Buttler in the league of AB and Kohli.

In ODI run-chases (after 12 years)

 

Matches

Innings

Runs

Ave

HS

SR

100s

50s

Kohli

138

134

7,039

68.33

183

94.35

26

58

Tendulkar

138

135

5,423

46.35

143

91.48

14

31

Coincidentally, at this stage of their careers, both had played the same number of ODIs where the team batted second. Taking a cut-off of 800 runs in ODIs, no batsman averages higher than Kohli in run-chases. Tendulkar in his overall ODI career has 8,720 runs in run chases, almost 1,700 runs more than Kohli in 98 more innings.

Kohli's incredible skills have no comparisons, but the presence of power-hitters in the line-up have allowed him to play in a more measured manner, being the run accumulator. Only in the 2000s, when Tendulkar was more than a decade into international cricket, he would enjoy the presence of the likes of Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj in the middle-order. Even Sehwag would become a permanent fixture in 2001. Throughout the first half of Tendulkar’s career, the side relied on him to bat through and also accelerate. Considering these factors, Tendulkar’s numbers are excellent.

ODIS AS CAPTAIN
Tendulkar had two stints as an Indian captain – from mid-1996 to end of 1997, the second one from mid-1999 to early-2000s. Kohli, who has sporadically led in MS Dhoni’s absence from 2013, has been India’s regular ODI captain from 2017.

ODI RECORDS AS CAPTAIN

 

Matches

Innings

Runs

Ave

HS

SR

100s

50s

Kohli

89

85

5,147

74.59

160*

98.80

21

23

Tendulkar

73

70

2,454

37.75

186*

83.46

6

12

Kohli averages almost double. It’s evident that he enjoys pressure and thrives in it. There’s no pressure like captaining India. In Tendulkar's case, the captaincy was a role he didn’t quite relish and appeared more bogged down. While Kohli enjoys a success rate of 71.8 per cent in ODIs, Tendulkar goes less than half, at 35. To Tendulkar's defence as a cricketer, along with 10,803 ODI runs during this period, he had 103 wickets and had won matches with the ball. Tendulkar’s wicket tally after 12 years was 99 more than Kohli’s.

TEST CRICKET
Moving to cricket’s most pristine format – Tests. 

Test career after first 12 years

 

Matches

Innings

Runs

Ave

HS

100s

50s

200+

Kohli

86

145

7,240

53.62

254*

27

22

7

Tendulkar

85

137

7,089

57.63

217

26

28

2

Kohli would go on to earn his Test cap three years after he made his limited-overs debut, at a much mature age and stage in his career. By then, Kohli knew the demands of international cricket and had made a name for himself. Tendulkar was thrown deep into the shark-infested ocean at 16, and he learned to swim. As the numbers suggest, Tendulkar did better. When I say better, I am not indicating the superior average. He would go on to master all conditions.

Except for Pakistan, he would average more than 40 in all the countries he played more than a Test. Even against Pakistan, in his debut series, in 1989, he braved an attack comprising Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir to score 215 runs at almost 36. He would get two important fifties. He would later go on to champion the moving conditions in England and New Zealand, before showing his prowess against bounce, in Australia and South Africa. And few could dominate spin as good as him. Ask the wizard, Shane Warne.

Like Tendulkar, Kohli has done well in Australia and South Africa, but he hasn’t been at his fluent best in England and New Zealand. He did redeem himself in the 2018 tour of England but fared terribly in New Zealand this year. His averages in the mid-30s in England, New Zealand and West Indies, proving either he has not truly mastered every condition or his best is yet to come. Unlike Tendulkar’s compact technique, Kohli has struggled against the moving ball outside off-stump.

While Tendulkar was more consistent during this phase, Kohli has enchased his hundreds better than his idol. Kohli has seven scores in excess of 200 and remains only behind Brian Lara (9), Kumar Sangakkara (11) and Don Bradman (12). Among his contemporaries, none are on the horizon. Steve Smith, Joe Root and Ross Taylor have three each.

TESTS AS CAPTAIN

 

Matches

Innings

Runs

Ave

HS

100s

50s

Kohli

55

90

5,142

61.21

254*

20

12

Tendulkar

25

43

2,054

51.35

217

7

7

India's most successful Test captain, Kohli's success record stands at 60 per cent. Under Kohli, India enjoyed the No.1 Test ranking for three-and-half years. Tendulkar's success rate stands at 16 per cent, and the phase included tours to two world-class opponents – Australia and South Africa.

Tendulkar maintained good batting numbers as a captain. He was still the side’s best batsman and the most successful in the world, though it was apparent that he wasn't enjoying his game with little support from his colleagues. His batting took to another level the moment; he stepped down in 2000. During this span, he played nine Tests under Ganguly and scored 1,053 runs at 75.21.

Meanwhile, ever since the captaincy cloak fell over Kohli, his game propelled to another level. His first Test as a captain was the Adelaide game of 2014-15. Kohli belted two centuries – the second one arguably the best of his career.

Tendulkar vs other Test batting giants during his first 12 years
Cut-off 3,000 runs

Four batsmen got more runs than Tendulkar, and they were – Steve Waugh (7,684), Mike Atherton (7,655), Mark Waugh (7,511) and Alec Stewart (7,469). All of them had played 100+ Tests. Tendulkar's most fierce batting rival, Brian Lara was neck-to-neck in terms of matches. Lara had played 81 Tests and notched up 6,751 runs. Lara had played six more innings than Tendulkar at this stage, had 337 fewer runs and ten less centuries. While Lara was more about the daddy hundreds, Tendulkar remained incredibly consistent.

With the same cut-off of 3,000, here are the batsmen who averaged over fifty during that phase.

Players

M

I

Runs

Ave

HS

100s

50s

Sachin Tendulkar (IND)

85

137

7,089

57.63

217

26

28

Andy Flower (ZIM)

25

43

2,054

51.35

217

11

25

Steve Waugh (AUS)

108

172

7,684

54.88

200

25

31

Rahul Dravid (IND)

49

86

4,046

52.54

200*

9

21

Graham Gooch (ENG)

45

83

4,176

51.55

333

12

17

Tendulkar averaged the most, and he also had the most hundreds. He was indeed the best in the world during this time. No wonder, Don Bradman would see himself in the Indian maestro.

Kohli vs other Test batting giants since his Test debut (Jun 2011) 
Cut-off 3,000 runs

Kohli leads the century list. But is he the best of his time? Certainly not. While Joe Root and David Warner have slightly more runs than Kohli at an average under 49, they are not the competitors. Kane Williamson has been brilliant in this phase, and so have the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, AB and Younis Khan. Still, a gentleman called Steve Smith has been toppling all the odds. Tendulkar was probably lucky that their peaks didn't coincide. The way Smith has evolved as a Test batsman, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ends up as the second greatest batsman ever. With Bradman having played the sport, the competition is always for the second spot.

With the same cut-off of 3,000, here are the top averages during Kohli’s time

Players

M

I

Runs

Ave

HS

SR

100s

50s

Steve Smith (AUS)

68

121

6,968

65.73

239

55.2

26

27

K Sangakkara (SL)

37

71

3,972

60.18

319

51.4

13

18

AB de Villiers (SA)

48

78

4,024

55.12

169

55.5

10

13

Younis Khan (PAK)

51

94

4,482

54

218

50.4

17

10

Virat Kohli (IND)

86

145

7,240

53.62

254*

57.7

27

22

Michael Clarke (AUS)

46

84

3,901

52.71

329*

60.1

14

7

Kane Williamson (NZ)

75

131

6,177

52.34

242*

52.1

20

30

C Pujara (IND)

74

123

5,733

49.85

206*

46.1

18

24

David Warner (AUS)

84

155

7,244

48.94

335*

72.9

24

30

Ross Taylor (NZ)

71

123

5,017

48.70

290

59.9

14

21

Numbers in isolation can mean little. Even at the presented surface level, it paints a different picture. Tendulkar, in his first 12 years, would win the world with his aggression, ability to take the majority of batting load for the team and he excelled in both the format that he played. His greatness also lies in his longevity. He went on to play for another 12 years.

Like Tendulkar, Kohli has gone to champion every format that he has played. The little spoken fact is his exploits as a T20I batsman. Kohli has the most runs in T20Is. At No.2 spot is Rohit Sharma, who has played 24 more innings. Kohli remains the only cricketer who averages over 50 in all three formats of international cricket.

Two of India’s favourite sons, the country is rather lucky to have them represent the cricket team.

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