Doesn’t matter which format of cricket, you wait with bated breath for this man to come out to bat. You feel a little guilty about cheering just a tad bit when the batsmen before him get out, because you are that much closer to watching him play. You dread those initial few deliveries he faces but he calms you right down with one of those magnificent drives. You are hooked to the action when he is at the crease but at the same time, glad he’s playing for the country to support. But often times, you also wonder why don’t his teammates step up and contribute alongside him. Especially in tough situations, when he is the only guy looking like capable of giving a fight.

No, we are not talking about Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990s. We are talking about Virat Kohli in 2018.

In a feeling that is all too familiar for Indian fans, England emerged victorious in the first Test at Edgbaston, despite the best efforts of one man. When Kohli walked back to the pavilion slowly in the second innings, the fans felt the pain as much as he did. He closed his eyes, looked towards the turf, then looked skyward, shook his head – here was the man who had scored 200 of the 436 runs his team had scored in the match, and yet, he was feeling like he fell short.

Hands up, if a quick flashback happened in your heads to that Test match in 1999 at Chepauk against Pakistan. Yes, us too.

The Edgbaston defeat will go down in Indian cricket’s folklore as yet another heart-breaker, when it seemed a famous win was a real possibility as the fourth innings began.

The defeat was also the latest example that, in Tests – especially overseas – India are back to the unsavoury routine of the past. They are banking on one man to deliver in a team game.

Kohli is bearing the burden

In recent times, far too often Kohli is the man doing bulk of the scoring for India in Tests. There is a positive side to that, in the sense that you have the best batsman of the generation in your team, it is natural he will score the most number of runs. It is, in theory, acceptable. When you have a man like Kohli, who’s hunger for runs and desire to convert his starts into big scores is perhaps unparalleled in Indian cricket history, it is to be expected. As he has grown as a batsman, especially at the Test level – which didn’t seem too obvious at the beginning of his career, it must be said – so has the team’s dependence on him.

Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of the percentage of runs Kohli has scored for India in Tests involving him.

Notice 2018? Yes, that’s a massive problem for team India. The four Tests he has played – three in South Africa and one in England – have seen him score nearly 30% of India’s runs.

The Tendulkar comparison

As the stat above shows, Kohli – like in many other facets of the game – is emulating Tendulkar a bit too genuinely to the average fan’s liking. A look at the year-by-year record for the two stalwarts’ contributions to their teams’ total tells you a story. As you’d expect Tendulkar started slow, playing as a lower-middle order batsman for the first few years in his career. Starting from 1992, he started coming into his own. The highest percentage contribution of his career came in the year 1998 (22.17%), which shouldn’t be a surprise, as it was one of his greatest years across formats. Kohli, in 2018, is on his way to smash that record, should he (and his teammates) keep up the form.

India’s dependence on Tendulkar reduced in the second half of his 200-Test career, with the emergence of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and later, Virender Sehwag. Marking the year 2000 as the splitting point, Tendulkar scored 16.19% of India’s runs before Y2K and 14.82% starting from the new millennium onward. While Kohli’s career average is 15.91% right now, since the start of 2016 it has shot up to 18.94%.

Contribution to their team's Test runs

Player Runs scored by team (matches involving the players) Runs scored by the player Percentage
Virat Kohli (overall) 36162 5754 15.91
Sachin Tendulkar (overall) 107398 15921 14.82
Sachin Tendulkar (pre-2000) 36079 5841 16.19
Sachin Tendulkar (2000-onwards) 71319 10080 14.13
Virat Kohli (since 2016)
14574 2760 18.94
Virat Kohli (In 2018) 1672 486 29.06

As a direct (and the most alarming) consequence of Kohli doing the heavy lifting for India in Tests, the contribution of batsmen Nos 5, 6 and 7 – the so-called spine of the team – is the worst for India among Test playing nations since the beginning of 2017. That is one area where even Sri Lanka are comfortably outperforming India. Remember the times when India had to choose between Laxman and Dravid for the No. 6 slot?

Courtesy: Sony Network / As of India's first innings at Edgbaston

Fab Four

While comparisons between eras comes with the usual caveats, a look at Kohli’s contemporaries also tells you a story. Steve Smith, the now-suspended Australian star and arguably the biggest competitor to Kohli for the ‘greatest Test batsman’ tag in this generation, scores a considerable percentage of Australia’s runs. Once boasting of the best all-round batting lineup the game has seen, Australia’s star has been on the wane in that regard for a while now and Smith is one of the major reasons for whatever success they have had in the recent past, as evidenced during the Pune Test in 2016.

Player Runs scored by team (matches involving the players) Runs by player Overall Percentage
Steve Smith 35998 6199 17.22
Kohli 36162 5754 15.91
Joe Root 38445 6054 15.75
Williamson 34129 5338 15.64

Apart from Smith, however, Kohli – in the last couple of years – has had to bear the burden of scoring the runs for his team in the longest format more so than Joe Root and Kane Williamson. The former has one of the best middle-order lineups in the game right now to back him up, while Williamson has had Ross Taylor in the form of his life to help him out of late.

For Kohli, however, no such help seems to be forthcoming in what is proving to be a tough 2018 for India’s support cast. Ajinkya Rahane is struggling, there is no clarity over the top-order, Cheteshwar Pujara – who could ideally be the guy to help Kohli out – suddenly finds himself out of reckoning in the one format he specialises in.

Suddenly – as evidenced by the whopping percentage of runs Kohli has scored for India this year so far – the Tendulkar comparisons don’t do justice to the Indian captain anymore. Virat might just be faced with a task more daunting than Sachin ever did, if this alarming trend continues.