So much has been said about Virat Kohli’s stupendous effort in Cape Town. Here are the numbers that matter: he ran 100 runs, he still finished with a strike rate of over 100, he now has 34 ODI hundreds, and he now has 318 runs in three matches for one dismissal.
That last statistic is frightening. The highest total by an overseas batsman in a bilateral ODI series in South Africa is 283. Back in 2001-02, Ricky Ponting reached that marker in a seven-match series. Kohli has another three matches to go, and it is possible his total tally of runs from this series may never be surpassed.
Another word comes out to mind as regards Kohli’s other aforementioned numbers — worrying. Indeed, his current form has put other Indian batsmen in shade. Sample the following figures. Shikhar Dhawan, with 76 runs, was the second-highest scorer in the Indian innings. He ran 28 runs during his knock.
Dhawan, again, is also the second-highest run-getter in this series with 162 in three matches, just over half of Kohli’s total. Ajinkya Rahane is fourth, with 90 runs, and yet to cross the three-figure mark after three matches.
Among the currently active Indian ODI batsmen, Rohit Sharma is second in the list of century makers with 16 hundreds to his name. That’s a disparity of 18 from Kohli, also a reflection of the gap between him and the remaining Indian batsman.
Even so, there is no doubting that Indian batting line-up revolves heavily around the top-order. You just have to identify their modus operandi; unlike England, the Men in Blue rarely go bang-bang, unless they are chasing a very tall total. The thought process is one of accumulation through the middle overs after a hectic start and then exploding in the death overs. It is also recognizable in their selection – Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav as double-finishers batting around MS Dhoni.
Herein, the glaring inconsistency in selecting a long-term No 4 batsman also creeps in. Over the past one year, India have had seven different players occupy this coveted spot with Yuvraj Singh enjoying the longest run — 10 matches until the tour of West Indies in June after which the experimentation phase began. In this interim, Yuvraj scored 358 runs at 44.75 (one unbeaten innings). Take out his knock of 150 against England at Cuttack, and that average falls to 29.71, hardly justifiable for a long-term No 4 batsman.
Again then, it underlines how India are overtly reliant on their top order to come good. Herein too, as discussed above, there is a major gap in performance of Rohit-Dhawan as compared to Kohli. Figures from the past one year alone prove as much.
Since January 2017, Kohli has amassed 1778 runs in 29 innings at a staggering average of 88.90, including eight hundreds and another seven fifties.
In the same interim, Dhawan has returned 1122 runs in 25 innings at average 51, inclusive of three hundreds and eight fifties. Rohit, meanwhile, has been prolific too, scoring 1328 runs in 24 innings at average 63.23, inclusive of six hundreds and five fifties. Their cumulative runs only drive home the point about how India are reliant on their top order.
It is when you apply the caveat of ‘Indian win’ that the results surprise you ever so slightly. Dhawan’s average in 19 wins goes up to 54.68. Rohit’s average in 19 wins too goes up to 72.68. Kohli, meanwhile, rockets off into the orbit – average 110.07 in 22 wins.
By his fairly inconsistent standards, Dhawan has enjoyed a successful last 12 months, on account of another ICC tournament wherein he roars back to form inexplicably. Two series against Sri Lanka helped as well. Yet, it is in Rohit that India found an alternate option to Kohli. At different times, whenever the need was pressing, he rose up to the occasion and provided able partnership to the Indian skipper. It fully justified his rise as the vice-captain in limited-overs’ formats.
Yet, the current blip Rohit is suffering puts India’s over-reliance on Kohli in the spotlight. Thanks to the wrist-spinners wreaking havoc, South Africa haven’t been able to score freely (an understatement, yes). However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that when it comes to batting, Kohli has been the lone difference between the two sides, considering that injured Faf du Plessis was the only other centurion in past three ODIs.
There is an argument doing the rounds that Kohli is performing at a scale different from the other members of the Indian dressing room, and on current evidence, this is irrefutable. While the captain has taken his game to an even higher, previously-unimaginable level, there is no doubt that more consistency and runs are needed from different quarters of the Indian batting line-up. The remaining three matches of this series against an almost beaten South African team would be a good start.