Will Virat ever catch up to Sachin?

Will Virat ever catch up to Sachin?

Virat Kohli recently scored his 10,000th run in ODIs, during his innings of 157 against West Indies in the second ODI of the home series. While breaking the 10,000-run barrier was always inevitable considering Kohli’s penchant for run scoring, the fact that he reached this mark in only 205 innings, shredding Sachin Tendulkar’s earlier record of 259 innings, was absolutely mind boggling.

Now that Kohli has almost made a joke of Sachin’s long standing record (that he had achieved in 2001), by surpassing the 10,000-run mark with more than 50 innings to spare, everyone began asking the obvious question of whether Kohli would manage to break Sachin’s two big ODI records – for most runs and most hundreds. Kohli already has 38 ODI hundreds, so even some basic back-of-envelope calculations tells us that if his rate of scoring centuries in the future is anything like what it has been so far, there is no doubt that Kohli will comfortably smash Sachin’s record of 49 ODI hundreds. But how many ODI hundreds will Kohli finish his career with? And will he be able to surpass Sachin’s tally of 18,426 ODI runs, which still seems a long way away.

In this piece, the attempt is to extrapolate Kohli’s career and look into the future to see how many ODI runs and hundreds Kohli is likely to finish his career with, and whether he is likely to break Sachin’s records in the process. For the purpose of this piece, it has been assumed that Kohli will continue to bat in the top order for the rest of career. This seems a fair assumption since Kohli has so far played 96% of his ODI innings in the top-4, and 75% of those at No.3. It has also been assumed that Kohli will continue to play till the year 2027, which is a world cup year, and at which point Kohli will be 38 years old. If Kohli were to played the 2031 World Cup, he would be 42 years old by that time, and with no player from a full-member nation other than Zimbabwe’s John Traicos having played in a World Cup (in 1992) at that age, this seems unlikely. Therefore, the chances are that Kohli will retire not long after the 2027 World Cup, so that India can build purposefully towards the 2031 World Cup.

The two key variables that will affect the number of ODI runs and hundreds that Kohli will be able to score going forward are: (i) a possible reduction in the number of ODIs that will played, keeping in mind the advent of T20 cricket; and (ii) the possibility of Kohli’s returns diminishing with age. Based on the analysis of these factors, the piece will conclude with a data-based prediction on the number of ODI runs and hundreds that Kohli will score in every coming year, till his presumed retirement in 2027. While every effort has been made to ensure that the projection is based on empirical data, this piece does involve an element of speculation and there may be other variable factors like bad form and injuries that affect the analysis. However, unless there is a serious injury that keeps Kohli out of action for a long time or he encounters an extended stretch of bad form, this will not unduly skew the analysis as the data for Kohli’s career till date (which is a fairly large sample size) will already account for this.

Diminishing number of ODIs

The table below shows the number of ODIs that have been played in 4 year periods between all the World Cups that have been played so far (including the upcoming 2019 World Cup). Matches that are part of a world cup have been excluded since this is dependent on the format of the tournament, and will artificially skew the analysis.

Table 1: Percentage increase/decrease in ODIs played over the years

Period Number of ODIs* Increase/Decrease Increase/Decrease%
1975 to 1979 27
1979 to 1983 122 95 +351.85%
1983 to 1987 227 105 +86.07%
1987 to 1992 236 9 +3.96%
1992 to 1996 295 59 +25.00%
1996 to 1999 359 64 +21.69%
1999 to 2003 457 98 +27.30%
2003 to 2007 537 80 +17.51%
2007 to 2011 518 -19 -3.54%
2011 to 2015 450 -68 -13.13%
2015 to 2019 460** 10 +2.22%

  • Does not include the matches played as part of the world cup
  • There have been only 427 ODIs played to date, however, since there are about 30-35 ODIs scheduled to be played before the 2019 World Cup, the number of ODIs has been taken as 460.

In a snapshot, this table captures the rise and fall of ODIs. In the early phases, when the world was coming to terms with and accepting the concept of ODIs, there were huge increases in the number of ODIs played – 352% between the 1979 and 1983 World Cups and 86% between the 1983 and 1987 World Cups. By 1987, the concept of ODIs was no longer novel, and from then till 2007, the increase has been steady but undramatic. However, since 2007, the year when the first World T20 was played (followed by the first IPL soon after), there has been a clear decrease in the number of ODIs being played. While the above table provides an indication of the overall ODIs played, the below table is specific to ODIs played by India since 2007.

Table 2: Percentage increase/decrease in ODIs played by India over the years

Period Number of ODIs Increase/Decrease Increase/Decrease%
2003 to 2007 109
2007 to 2011 118 9 8.26
2011 to 2015 99 -19 -16.10
2015 to 2019 86* -13 -13.13

  • India have played only 73 ODIs to date, however, since there are about 13 ODIs scheduled to be played before the 2019 World Cup, the number of ODIs has been taken as 86.

While the number of ODIs played by countries across the world reduces slightly, by about 4%, in the 2007-2011 period, it appears there was no significant change to the total ODIs played by India in this period. However, over the two subsequent phases since then, the total ODIs played by India has dropped significantly, by about 27% in all. If a similar rate of decrease is assumed for the next two phases, i.e. 2019-2013 and 2023-2027, India will only be playing about 63 ODIs in the 2023-2027 phase. Based on the Future Tours Calendar that has been declared for the 2019-2023 cycle, India will be playing 62 ODIs in this period, plus the two Asia Cups (the format and fixtures for which have not been announced), so let us assume that India will be playing about 70 ODIs in the 2019-2023 cycle. Essentially, India will be playing about 133 ODIs in the next two phases, 2019-2013 and 2023-2027, plus about 30 ODIs (approximately) as part of the three World Cups in this period (2019, 2023 and 2027), which makes a total of 163 ODIs.

Kohli has played 90% of India’s ODIs over the last two phases, i.e. 2011-2015 and 2015-2019 (the phase before that has not been considered since it includes the early part of Kohli’s career when he had not establishment himself in the team), so let us assume, in a best-case scenario, that he will continue to play 90% of India’s ODIs, which means Kohli will play about 158 more ODIs. Since Kohli bats in the top-order, he almost always gets an opportunity to bat, and has batted in 96% of ODIs that he has played, which means that he will probably play about 152 more ODI innings.

Therefore, Kohli will likely finish his career having played about 374 ODIs, which means that Sachin will probably continue to hold the record for having played the most ODIs (463).

Impact of Age

Let us now carry out an analysis of how Kohli’s run-scoring and hundred-making are likely to be affected by age. In the last two phases, i.e. 2011-2015 and 2015-2019, from the age of 22 to 29, Kohli has scored 8987 runs from 176 innings, including 35 hundreds, which means he has scored a hundred every 5 innings, and about 51 runs per innings (‘runs per innings’ has been considered for this predictive exercise, and not ‘average’, since the average is dependent on the number of not-outs, which is difficult to prectict). In order to help predict how many runs and hundreds Kohli will score going forward, set out below is a table that shows the average performance of top-order batsmen (Nos. 1 to 4), from the age of 22 to 29, and from 30 onwards.

Table 3: Impact of age on run-scoring and century-making ability of players

Age Runs/Inns Increase/Decrease % Inns/100 Increase/Decrease %
22-29 31.1 20.9
30 33.2 +6.6 17.7 +15.6
31 31.8 -4.1 24.6 -39.2
32 33.2 +4.3 18.9 +23.2
33 33.4 +0.7 17.8 +5.7
34 33.1 -0.8 20.2 -13.5
35 34.1 +2.8 15.6 +22.9
36 30.3 -11.0 30.8 -97.7
37 32.9 +8.5 16.8 +45.5
38 29.7 -9.8 19.9 -18.4

Table 3 shows that, by and large, batsmen don’t show any signs of decline, whether in terms of run scoring or century making, till the age of 35. The data from this table has, in Table 5, been extrapolated and applied to Kohli. Once may argue that the data in Table 3 is too generic in that it doesn’t give a true picture of how batsmen with long career fare as they age. To address this, set out below is a table of those players who have scored more ODIs runs than Kohli, with a comparison of their batting performance after the age of 35 with their overall career numbers. It may come as a surprise to some that the batting average is almost identical (overall career average of 39.6, compared to an average of 39.5 post the age of 35), and the rate of scoring centuries actually improves by almost 20% after the age of 35, with these batsmen scoring a century once every 12.6 innings after the age of 35 while they only scored a century only once every 15.5 innings across their overall career. Table 4 shows, surprisingly, that batsmen like Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara and Dilshan actually improve quite significantly after the age of 35.

Regardless, the extrapolation of Kohli’s career as set out in Table 5 has been done basis the more conservative and general estimates from Table 3. If Table 4 is an indication of how Kohli is likely to perform after the age of 35, his career numbers will be enhanced even further.

Table 4: Career batting stats of batsmen who have scored more ODI runs than Virat Kohli compared against their batting stats after the age of 35.

Player Mat Ave 100 Inns/100 Mat Ave 100 Inns/100
SR Tendulkar 463 44.8 49 9.2 46 49.2 7 6.4
KC Sangakkara 404 41.9 25 15.2 71 57.5 11 6.2
RT Ponting 375 42.1 30 12.2 45 33.9 2 22.0
ST Jayasuriya 445 32.4 28 15.4 129 34.2 12 10.5
DPMD Jayawardene 448 33.4 19 22.0 75 32.6 4 16.8
Inzamam-ul-Haq 378 39.5 10 35.0 42 38.2 0 NA
JH Kallis 328 44.4 17 18.5 25 30.9 0 NA
SC Ganguly 311 41.1 22 13.6 16 31.0 0 NA
R Dravid 344 39.1 12 26.5 11 30.4 0 NA
BC Lara 299 40.5 19 15.2 68 32.8 1 64.0
TM Dilshan 330 39.3 22 13.7 116 45.8 12 9.4
OVERALL 39.6 15.50 39.5 12.55


Based on all of the above, set out below is Table 5, that predicts how many runs and hundreds Kohli is likely to score in every year going forward. Based on this analysis, it appears that Kohli will finish his career with a mind boggling 71 ODI hundreds, which is significantly more than Sachin’s 49. However, it looks like it may be touch-and-go on the record for total career runs in ODI. Table 5 shows that Kohli will finish his career with 18,299 runs, which is just shy of Sachin’s mark of 18,426 runs.

Table 5: A projection of Virat Kohli’s ODI career based on the various findings in this article

Year Kohli’s Age India’s ODIs* Kohli’s
Kohli’s Inns Runs 100s
2019 30 29 26 25 1364 6
2020 31 22 20 19 992 3
2021 32 12 11 10 564 2
2022 33 24 22 21 1137 5
2023 34 16 14 14 752 3
2024 35 15 14 13 725 3
2025 36 16 14 14 688 2
2026 37 17 15 15 793 4
2027 38 25 23 22 1052 5
Projected Stats 158 152 8067 33
Current Stats 216
208 10232 38
Overall Career Stats (including projection) 374 360 18299 71

  • Includes (i) ODIs to be played prior to the 2019 World Cup; and (ii) all ODIs played as part of World Cups
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