indian cricket

Numbers don’t lie: For all his bravado, is Virat Kohli really a big match player?

The numbers paint a very different picture from the one that many imagined.

When Pakistan put up 338 on the board at The Oval on Sunday, most Indian fans probably knew that their team was in a tight spot. Pakistan’s traditional weakness is their batting and their inability to handle pressure but once they go that out of the way, they were favourites

However, India had shown some skill in chasing in recent times. Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, is known as a chase master, averaging close to 66 in chases, and 95 in successful ones.

But when a leading edge from Kohli’s bat went straight to point, many left the ground and perhaps even more switched off their television sets knowing that the match was lost. It didn’t matter that Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were yet to bat. This is 2017, not 2007, and these two greats are way past their prime. It didn’t matter that Kedar Jadhav had shown incredible promise while chasing in recent times, or that Hardik Pandya was capable of decimating bowling attacks. Without Kohli, this was not going to happen.

Kohli’s early dismissal was greeted with shock. After all, he represents a new Indian team that actually prefers to chase down totals, and is generally unfazed by scoreboard pressure. All the pundits think quite highly of Kohli’s ability to build an innings in a chase, and deal with pressure situations.

But the numbers paint a different story.

Numbers don’t lie

Kohli goes missing in the KO rounds. AFP
Kohli goes missing in the KO rounds. AFP

When you look at knockout games in One-Day Internationals, Kohli’s average is an ordinary 31.36. If you further remove the matches against Bangladesh, it comes down to an abysmal 24.60. This is in sharp contrast to his career average of 54.14.

He has scored more than 50 only twice in 14 knockout games. One of them was against Sri Lanka in the semi-final of the 2013 Champions Trophy, when India were chasing only a paltry 182, and the other was against Bangladesh in this year’s Champions Trophy. That is a very serious dip in form for a player who goes past 50 almost 40% of the time.

This also just isn’t about facing teams he’s had problems against in the past.

  • Kohli loves playing against Sri Lanka, and averages almost 55 against them. But in seven knockout matches against them, he averages only 32.80.
  • The same goes for Australia, against whom he averages almost 56, but in knockout games, this comes down to 12.50.

Nor is it a question of tough conditions or batting collapses in the Indian team. Among the 14 knockout matches Kohli has played, India actually won 10 and, in every single game, at least one team scored at a run rate of five.

Kohli averages 43.30 in ICC tournaments against major teams, which is still much lower than his career average (54.14). His rate of going past 50 too, dips to 23.5 percent. While this isn’t a bad record per se, one can’t deny that a dip in performance in the sport’s biggest events is not a good sign, no matter how great the player may be.

Knocked in knockouts?

Kohli does quite well in the league stages of ICC events, averaging 55.42 even if you exclude games against associate teams, West Indies, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. In knockout games of these events, though, he averages only 29.16 against major teams.

Perhaps the greatest example of this contrast is his record against Pakistan in ICC events. In four matches against them in the league stage, Kohli averages 113, with a hundred and a fifty. In two knockout games against them, he averages 7, and hasn’t had a double-digit score. It is a pretty small cross-section but one that should worry him nonetheless.

*Major teams: Test playing nations excluding West Indies, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe
*Major teams: Test playing nations excluding West Indies, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe

So, why is all this important? The Indian team, for the longest time, had serious problems when it came to the big games. Even Sourav Ganguly, one of India’s greatest captains, was jinxed when it came to finals. With the rise of Yuvraj and Dhoni, India learned how to finish matches, and this helped more in big tournaments and matches than anything else. In Yuvraj, India got an ICC event specialist. “Cometh the hour, cometh MS Dhoni” became a reality in tournament finals. In Shikhar Dhawan, India got another batsman who excels in ICC tournaments.

But Dhoni and Yuvraj may not even play till the 2019 World Cup. Dhawan has an exceptional record in ICC events, but he’s an opener, and it’s unfair to expect him to provide a foundation as well as see India home. While the ideal situation would be to have multiple batsmen who can come together and win big matches for the team, this rarely happens in cricket, and even less so for India.

The responsibility of playing the match-winning innings in big matches was supposed to rest with Virat but, so far, the pressure is clearly weighing him down. After a solid start to the 2015 World Cup campaign, he tapered off, and scored one run in 11 balls in the all-important semi-final against Australia, triggering a collapse. Against Pakistan on Sunday, when his team needed him to play a big knock, he made just five runs.

Is there more to this than meets the eye? The numbers clearly suggest so but you’d count on Kohli to set things right in the future.

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