They started their international careers around the same time, are in a similar age-group, are stylish, right-handed batsmen, and at this point, are two of the best players in the world in One-Day International cricket.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have a lot in common, but their journeys to the top have been far from similar.
Kohli may have more runs to his name as of today but it was Sharma who made his international debut first. From a young age, the Mumbaikar was considered the future of India’s batting and played his first ODI when he was 20 years old. Kohli, however, burst onto the scene soon after and raced to the top with record-breaking performances.
Over the years, though, Sharma has raised his game in spectacular fashion to establish himself as of one of the best batsmen in the one-day format, right next to Kohli. Both players have the ability to win matches from any position and there’s very little to choose between them when they’re at their best.
In this data check, we look at how Kohli and Sharma became the best in the world. Their paths have been quite different but as of today, they’ll walk into most people’s first-choice ODI XI. Let’s have a look at how they got here.
Overall ODI record
Year-wise breakdown of Sharma's ODI career
Year-wise breakdown of Kohli's ODI career
Here’s a year-wise breakdown of Kohli and Sharma’s ODI journeys:
Sharma: Into his second year in international cricket, Sharma was still trying to find his feet at the highest level. He scored three half-centuries that year, with a match-winning 66 in the CB series final against Australia being his most valuable contribution. He played a total of 28 matches in 2008, the most in a calendar year by him in his career so far, but an average of just 25.33 did little to establish him in the playing XI.
Kohli: Like many greats of the game, Kohli, too, had a quiet start to his international career. He batted in five ODIs in 2008 – all against Sri Lanka – and got a half-century in his fourth innings. But an average of 31.80 and a strike-rate of 66.52 that year didn’t make for extraordinary numbers.
Sharma: After having the most number of ODIs in a calendar year to his name in 2008, Sharma played the least number of ODIs in a year in 2009. He was in and out of the team and a highest score of 43 not out in seven innings meant he had a year to forget.
Kohli: This was the year Kohli started to show sparks of the potential he has. He batted eight times in 2009 and got his first international hundred along with two half-centuries. None of his knocks made a particularly big impact but his average of 54.16 that year was enough to make him a regular in the team.
Sharma: Two centuries and a fifty made 2010 an important year for Sharma. He finally managed to get a few big scores under his belt but was still not a permanent fixture in the side. An increase in his average and strike-rate that year was encouraging but three years into his international career, he was still to show his full potential.
Kohli: A sure-shot pick in India’s ODI XI, Kohli came into his own in 2010. He scored seven fifties and three centuries that year, including back-to-back ones against Australia and New Zealand, to prove his worth as a match-winner. His journey towards greatness had well and truly begun by then.
Sharma: This was a strange year for Sharma. He played 16 ODIs in 2011 and scored 611 runs at an average of 55.54. But he just couldn’t get the big scores. He got six half-centuries that year – all of them against the West Indies – but those performances didn’t add up to much. The big setback for him was missing out on the World Cup-winning campaign. He couldn’t make a mark in the ODIs in South Africa at the start of the year and that went on to cost him dearly.
Kohli: He played 34 ODIs in 2011, the most in a calendar year by him in his career so far, and came out with a bigger reputation. Apart from being an integral part of India’s World Cup-winning team, Kohli scored runs in South Africa, West Indies and England as well. By the end of the year, he had established himself as the biggest match-winner in India’s middle order.
Sharma: Without a doubt, this was the worst year for Sharma in his international career. As if missing out on the glory in 2011 wasn’t enough, he went on to have a horror time after that too. In 2012, he got 168 runs at an average of 12.92 in 14 games and was on the brink of being pushed well back in the pecking order. He had reached a point of now or never.
Kohli: The unbeaten 133 against Sri Lanka in Hobart and the 183 against Pakistan in Dhaka – his highest ODI score to date – came in 2012. This was the year Kohli took his average and conversion-rate to another level. One match-winning performance after another meant he had made his place among the world’s very best.
Sharma: The watershed year for Sharma. The year that saw his career take a permanent upswing. In 2013, he was promoted to the opener’s position and that triggered a dramatic turn in his fortunes. He went on to play a key role in India’s Champions Trophy triumph in England, scored an ODI double-century against Australia, and guided Mumbai Indians to their first IPL title after being handed captaincy.
Kohli: A year with a heavy workload once again, Kohli managed to maintain an average of 52.83 in 30 innings. There was a significant dip in his average compared to 2012 but that can be attributed to the number of matches he played. Getting two centuries in a home series against Australia was the highlight for him with the bat.
Sharma: For most of 2014, he didn’t do anything spectacular with the bat. He got three half-centuries, all away from home, but that was about it. And then came the month of November. Sharma hit 264 runs against Sri Lanka. In a single innings. That knock at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata – the highest individual score in an ODI innings to date – established Sharma as one of the most feared batsmen in white-ball cricket.
Kohli: Another impressive year for Kohli. He got two centuries at home and one each in New Zealand and Bangladesh. This was the fourth straight year where he got over 1,000 runs. His final innings of 2014 – an unbeaten 139 against Sri Lanka in Ranchi – was in a trademark, brilliant chase. He had played less than seven full years of international cricket at this point but had already notched-up his 21st ODI ton.
Sharma: He hit three centuries this year – the most he had hit in a single year till that point in his career. Sharma started 2015 with a superb 138 against Australia in Melbourne. At the ODI World Cup, he got two half-centuries and a 137 against Bangladesh in the quarter-finals but failed to fire in the semis against eventual champions Australia. On the personal front, overall, he had a decent year with an average of 50.93 from 17 innings.
Kohli: This was, probably, the most disappointing year for Kohli with the bat in ODIs. He returned with an average of 36.64 in 20 innings and struggled to find momentum. The century in the opening game against Pakistan was the only real contribution he made in the World Cup. But this year was just the calm before the storm.
Sharma: Just like in 2015, he began the year with a brilliant century in Australia. He scored an unbeaten 171 in Perth, a 124 in Brisbane and a 99 in the fifth and final game in Sydney. India went down 1-4 but Sharma had done enough to win the player of the series award.
Kohli: He, too, got a couple of centuries in that series against Australia but it wasn’t enough to bag the trophy. India played relatively fewer ODIs in 2016 but just like Sharma, Kohli was in good form throughout. He scored three hundreds and four half-centuries and returned with an average of 92.37 for that year.
Sharma: This was a sensational year for Sharma. He scored six hundreds and five half-centuries in 2017 and ended the year with 1,293 runs at an average of 71.83. His first century of the year came in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Bangladesh, and his last significant score in 2017 was a double-ton against Sri Lanka.
Kohli: This was the year Kohli took over the reins of India’s ODI captaincy and became the leader of the team in all three formats. On the batting front, he had a phenomenal 12 months. He scored 1460 runs, the most he has ever scored in a calendar year, and notched-up six centuries and seven fifties. The only real setback for him was his early dismissal in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. He finished the year with 32 ODI tons and moved past Ricky Ponting to take the second spot in the all-time list.
Sharma: He was firmly in the middle of a golden run with the bat by this point. He got hundreds at home, in South Africa, in England and in the UAE. He also captained India to the Asia Cup title. This was the second year in a row where he scored over 1,000 runs and slammed six centuries in ODIs.
Kohli: He was sensational in the series in South Africa at the start of the year, scoring three centuries to help India win 5-1. He got another three tons at home against West Indies later in the year to finish with a stunning average of 133.55 in 14 matches.
Sharma: A dream year for Sharma where he scored 1,490 runs at an average of 57.30. The highlight was, of course, the five centuries he scored in the ODI World Cup in England. It’s a record for the most tons hit by a player in a single edition of the tournament but wasn’t enough to take India all the way. Even so, it was a sensational 12 months for Sharma which saw him cross the fifty-run mark the most times in calendar year in his career.
Kohli: He had an impressive run with the bat, too, scoring 1377 runs at an average of 59.86, but he wasn’t at his best during the World Cup and his team ended up paying a heavy price for it. Kohli got five half-centuries in England but couldn’t convert even one of them into a big score. Having said that, five centuries and seven fifties in 12 months isn’t a poor return by any stretch.
The year 2020 has seen Sharma slam one century against Australia before being sidelined due to injury. Whereas Kohli has struggled for form and had a forgettable tour of New Zealand. But all that doesn’t count for much now, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing a shutdown of all sports events across the world. We haven’t had much cricket this year and we don’t know how much more we’ll get but the break will give two of India’s greatest ODI batsmen time away from the game and a chance to reset their goals. Perhaps, they have even more to offer? Sharma’s resurgence has surely made his matchup with Kohli one of the most fascinating stories in cricket.
(All statistics courtesy ESPNcricinfo Statsguru)