Note: This article is based on statistics as of 28th August, 2017 - the original publish date of the article.

The 2017 Champions Trophy made for compelling viewing, especially in the business end of the tournament. Four of the finest One-Day International batsmen of all time – Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, and MS Dhoni – played this tournament and it was inevitable that at least two records would fall by the time the tournament ended.

Kohli, who has been dominating ODI cricket for more than five years now, became the fastest to reach 8000 ODI runs while Amla, almost unnoticed, became the quickest to get to 25 ODI centuries. This, I felt, would be a perfect time to take a detailed look at ODI greats (present and past) and figure out who might qualify as the best. I decided to approach this analysis very differently from the regular approach that analyses overall averages, strike rates etc.

Along with the four batsmen mentioned, the two others I selected for the analysis include the highest run-getter of all time, Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards, who was way ahead of his time and is regarded as the godfather of the modern ODI game. Every great batsman goes through a purple patch (or many) during his career where he appears almost invincible.

The opposite also happens more than once – where the batsman cannot seem to get the ball off the square. An interesting way to understand how the batsman’s career has progressed is by using the concept of the Moving Average (M Avg). How is this different from the concept of average?

Let us say the batsman has played 20 innings. The M Avg (for a set of ten innings) considers innings 1-10 in the first interval, innings 2-11 in its second, and so on. This eliminates sudden upward and downward shifts in the average and allows a player’s career progress to be understood much better. Further, to eliminate the confusion created by not outs, I have eliminated the not-out factor in the analysis and calculated the runs scored per innings (RPI). So, if a batsman has scored 200 runs in 10 innings and is not out twice, his RPI is 200/10 = 20 and his average is 200/8 = 25.

I have also defined the quality factor (QF) for batsmen as the product of the strike rate and the RPI. (QF = (SR*RPI)/100). The analysis of the QF throws up some very interesting and intriguing results. For almost all batsmen, periods of high RPI coincide with high SR; this does imply that batsmen seems to score more (and score quickly) during a purple patch. On the other hand, both the RPI and SR seem to take a plunge during a rough patch hinting that batsmen struggle not just to score runs when the going is tough but also find it challenging to score at a fast clip in that phase. The moving average concept is extended to both the strike rate (SR) and the quality factor (QF).

Factors considered:

  • M RPI – Moving average approach to Runs per Innings (RPI)
  • M SR – Moving average approach to Strike Rate
  • M QF – Moving average approach to Quality Factor ((RPI*SR)/100)
  • Ov RPI – Overall career Runs per Innings
  • Ov SR – Overall career Strike Rate
  • Ov QF – Overall career Quality Factor

The analysis excludes all matches where the batsman/team did not bat

Virat Kohli: Slow start but extraordinary resurgence

Like most other batsmen, Kohli had a slow start to his career. For the first 35 intervals, his RPI did not really stay higher than 40 for too long. In fact, there were phases where the RPI dipped to nearly 16. In the same period, his strike rate, although good, hovered in the mid 80s. However, in the period after that, Kohli’s career saw an extraordinary resurgence.

Kohli’s RPI rose to reach a career-high 73 around the 77th interval. The corresponding strike rate also improved to top the 100 mark. The QF for this interval (73.80) is almost 80% higher than his career QF (41.36). His form suffered another major dip around the 146th interval where his RPI fell to 16.33 and his SR dropped to 77. As a result, his QF in that phase was just 12.53, nearly 70% lower than his career mark. As he has demonstrated over the last few years, Kohli has the ability to get back to top form very quickly; in the last (and most recent) phase of his career, has maintained a QF which is pretty similar to his career mark.

AB de Villiers: A recent plunge

AB de Villiers had a fairly ordinary start to his career with his RPI hovering in the 20s and 30s before finally reaching his career mark (43.75) around the 24th interval. His strike rate also rose higher than the 100 mark in that phase. Thereafter, both his RPI and strike rate stayed more or less higher than the career figures (43.75 and 100.25 respectively).

Following a major blip (in the 130-140 interval range), de Villiers’ QF went up beyond 70 and reached a career-high mark of nearly 98 in the 162nd interval. He continued to have a very high QF (80s and 90s) in the subsequent ten intervals with his SR reaching a jaw dropping 160 at one point. However, in the last (recent) phase, de Villiers has witnessed a plunge in form; his QF dropped to just below 22 around the 190th interval and now stands at 36.20, a 15% drop from his career figure.

Hashim Amla: An under-appreciated great

At first glance, Amla does not seem to fit into the category of dominant ODI batsmen. But beneath that placid exterior lies one of the most determined mindsets known to the international game. Amla has quietly and consistently gone about dismantling every major ODI record and is now undoubtedly ranked among the greats of the format.

His RPI hovered around the career mark (46.96) until the 65th interval with a high of 76.8 in the 24th interval. His QF in the 26th interval scaled the 80 mark (nearly double his career mark of 41.82). A major drop in form led to his QF falling to 22.08 in the 66th interval before another resurrection saw it reach the 75 mark in the 102nd interval. His form in the last 15 intervals has mirrored that of de Villiers; the QF is in the mid 30s and a good 20% lower than the career number.

MS Dhoni: Mostly consistent

It is probably fair to say that Dhoni has had the biggest impact on India’s ODI performance in the last decade. Starting off as a hitting option at No 3, Dhoni steadily transformed himself into an exceptional middle-order batsman capable to administering the perfect finish to an innings.

His stand-out display was in the 2011 World Cup final when he walked in at No 4 and crafted a fantastic, unbeaten 91 to lead India to a great win. When one observes Dhoni’s career journey, it is hard to miss the fact that his strike rate has consistently dropped off from over 100 to the mid 80s as his role in the team changed. His QF touched a career-high 60 in the 16th interval but fell away under 15 around the 40th interval before rising back up closer to his career number (33.04). An extraordinary drop in form around the 150th-160th intervals saw his strike rate drop below 60 and his QF fall to 10.67 (70% drop from career mark). Subsequently, there have been ups and downs but Dhoni’s numbers have mostly hovered around his career figures.

Sachin Tendulkar: A symbol of consistency after an initial blip

For nearly two decades, Tendulkar’s form was synonymous with India’s ODI hopes. When he clicked, India had a chance and when he didn’t, India stood virtually no chance. After starting off as a fast-scoring middle-order batsman, Tendulkar seized the opportunity to open during the tour of New Zealand in 1994 and never looked back.

Famously, Tendulkar had a very ordinary start to his career and his QF was most languishing in the mid 20s and even fell away under 10 a few times between the 47th & 55th intervals. His form saw a surge in the period post the blip and his QF reached the mid 50s around the 100th interval. After that phase, Tendulkar’s career was a symbol of consistency. His QF reached nearly 78 in the 181st interval and stayed well above his career mark (35.15) for almost 20 intervals.

Another major drop Tendulkar suffered was during the 287th interval when his SR fell to nearly 53 and his QF crashed to the lowest point (7.69). Despite a couple of other blips, Tendulkar pushed his QF back close to 70 and finished his career with a QF of 44, 20% greater than his career mark.

Viv Richards: A master before his time

At a time when the rest of the cricketing world was struggling to understand the ODI format, Viv Richards was nearly a generation ahead. His ability to play attacking cricket, improvise, and control the innings was well ahead of his time. Richards’ overall career numbers (average of 47 and a strike rate of 90) are on par with the best of this era when batting conditions are at their best.

Richards started off well with a strike rate close to 90 and a QF in the high 50s before a blip around the 20th and 28th interval when his QF fell to nearly 50% of his career mark of 36.30. A terrific run between the 85th and 97th intervals saw his strike rate go over 100 consistently with his QF topping out at 71. 62 (nearly double his career mark). Yet another surge between the 111th and 120th intervals (QF nearly touching 60) was followed by a below par end to his career as the QF dropped away to the early 20s (40% drop from the career figure).

Score pattern analysis

Analysing the score distribution for each player throws up some very interesting numbers. Both Kohli and Tendulkar make less than 15% of their overall RPI in more than 15% of their innings with Tendulkar topping at 22.6%. Amla tops the next two categories (15-30% and 30-50%) with 28.7% of his innings falling in these two ranges. Dhoni and de Villiers top the group in scores made in the 50-80% of RPI category. While Amla is way ahead of the group in terms of the proportion of scores made in the 80-100% of RPI category, Dhoni and Richards top the next two categories (100-150% and 150-200%).

Kohli’s penchant for big scores is evident from the fact that he tops the last two categories (200-300% and >300% of RPI) with close to 24% of his innings in these ranges. Tendulkar comes second, with 18.3% of his innings falling in the last two categories.

Cutting to the chase

For a while now, Kohli has demonstrated an amazing propensity to be able to lift his game in a chase, and even more so in a challenging chase. It is mind boggling to see him orchestrate the chase without ever being ruffled or affected by the rising run rate. But how does he stack up against the finest when it comes to his display in ODI chases? The numbers seem to point to the fact that Kohli might very well be the most effective batsman in a chase.

Kohli has a QF of 36.12 (RPI of 39.69 and SR of 91) overall, but this number rises up to a scarcely believable 47.26 in chases (RPI of 50.55 and SR of 93.5). His QF in chases (QF2) is a percentage improvement of 31% over his career QF (QF1). No other batsman has a QF2 exceeding their overall career numbers. Tendulkar comes closest with the QF ratio (QF2/QF1) working out to be 0.97 while most other batsmen have the corresponding number hovering around the 0.80 mark.

Further, Kohli has made a 50+ score on 43 occasions in chases representing an extraordinary 43% of the total chases he has been a part of (100 innings). Another terrific stat is that Kohli has been not out 18 times in a successful chase while scoring 50 or more (18% of total chases). While de Villiers and Tendulkar have made 50+ scores in 35% and 30% of the chases, de Villiers is second on the not-out % (50+ scores) in successful chases (17%).

When it really matters

The true test for every player comes when the going gets tough. Even more so when the game played is a knockout match. The player’s ability to leave a major impact on such an occasion is a huge factor in determining his greatness. While Kohli has had some superb numbers in chases, he has fallen short when it comes to the big-match days.

His QF in big matches (QF2) is much lower than his career QF (QF1) and the QF ratio (QF2/QF1) is just 0.72. While Dhoni and de Villiers have QF ratios close to the 0.80 mark, Amla is ranked well below with a poor QF ratio of 0.29. Tendulkar, who has often been (unfairly) criticised for not turning up on a big day, has actually done superbly when it matters. He has a QF ratio of 1.20 which is bettered only by the great Viv Richards who has a QF ratio of 1.22.

Richards, who won over 70% of the big games he played in, has made a 50+ score on 55% of the occasions he batted in a major game. This definitely does showcase his ability to rise to the occasion when it matters the most. Tendulkar is a close second with 44% while Kohli is well below at just 14%.

Richards: Unquestionably the greatest

Richards played in a time when batsmen the world over were quite clueless about the limited-overs format. In that period, Richards was so far ahead of the pack that it makes for some stunning reading. He made centuries in big finals (World Cup 1979, World Series finals in Australia) and smashed a world-record unbeaten 189 at Old Trafford in 1984, adding 106 for the last wicket with Michael Holding while scoring 94 of those runs. By the time he ended his glorious career, Richards had made three 150+ scores (and a 149 against India) and won 31 player-of-the-match awards in just 187 matches.

Moving RPI, SR and QF calculated for 3-year periods starting 1978 when ODIs were played more frequently. The period between 1971 & 1977 had very few matches and is not considered for the analysis.

To effectively compare batsmen across eras it is imperative that their numbers be adjusted based on a particular period. The current period (2015-’2017) has been by far the best for batsmen with the QF reaching a high of 31.07 (top six batsmen only from Test teams excluding the recent two entrants, Afghanistan and Ireland).

When each of the top batsmen is compared to his peers (QF comparison), Richards is more than twice as good as the rest of the fray while de Villiers, who is second, is 71% better than his peers. When the QF for each batsman’s career span is calculated, the QF for Richards’ career phase is the lowest (17.75) while it is the highest for Kohli and Amla (26.61). By adjusting the QF to map to the current phase (2015-’2017), we see that Richards’ QF jumps to a brilliant 63.52 which is more than 20% ahead de Villiers (52.75) and 26% ahead of Tendulkar (50.01) respectively.

It perhaps does make sense to assume that Richards, who scaled such heights in an otherwise slow-scoring era when the game was perhaps skewed in favour of bowlers (lighter bats, bigger boundaries, no field restrictions for many years), would have gone on to dominate the bowling like no other batsman ever can hope to.

  • Virat Kohli’s career RPI and QF were incorrectly mentioned earlier and have been corrected. The rest of the numbers and analysis have also been modified accordingly. The error is regretted.