Virat Kohli is redefining Twenty20 batting

Unlike the all-or-nothing approach of the likes of Chris Gayle, Kohli combines powerful hitting with composure and unprecedented consistency

Unlike the all-or-nothing approach of the likes of Chris Gayle, Kohli combines powerful hitting with composure and unprecedented consistency

All charts in the piece are based on the 107 players who have scored 2,500 or more runs across all Twenty20 competitions.
Source: Cricket Archive • Graphics by John Burn-Murdoch / @jburnmurdoch

India's Virat Kohli is having arguably the greatest year ever for a batsman in the history of Twenty20 cricket, amassing 1,598 runs in just 28 matches for club and country.

Kohli's 2016 total lies second in the all-time calendar-year rankings, behind the 1,665 hit last year by Chris Gayle, Kohli's teammate at Indian Premier League (IPL) team Royal- Challengers Bangalore (RCB).

RCB lost an enthralling match against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Sunday's IPl 2016 final, concluding the biggest tournament in a Twenty20 season that has felt like a significant year in the format's evolution.

Since Twenty20 was established in 2003, batting success has generally been a function of aggressive shot-making. Opening batsmen could be forgiven a few very low scores as long as they hit match-winning scores in between.

But in 2016 the likes of Kohli and the Australian David Warner — his opposite-number as captain and opening batsman in Sunday's final — have demonstrated that a less reckless approach can yield equal if not greater rewards.

In 28 matches across the ICC World Twenty20, the Asia Cup and IPL, Kohli was out for a duck only once, and scored 50 or more — a feat until recently considered outstanding in the short format of the game — 64 per cent of the time.

This is in sharp contrast to Gayle, who this year has scored single figures more than half of the time he has lifted his bat in a Twenty20 match. Gayle's 76 runs off 38 deliveries in the IPL final was the top score in the match, but this was an exception in what has been a poor year for the self-styled 'universe boss', who has twice faced accusations of sexism over comments made to female journalists.

Even in his record-setting run in 2015, Gayle's big-hitting came at the cost of five scores of less than 10.

How the big hitters score their runs

AB de Villiers has enjoyed a reputation as one of Twenty20's stars for some time, and several big scores in RCB's run to the IPL final make him second only to the peerless Kohli in importance to the team. But de Villiers also echoes Gayle in occasionally surrendering his wicket cheaply as he seeks out the boundary rope.

Warner seems the closest to Kohli in terms of combining ruthlessness with reliability. This year he has been dismissed for single figures much less frequently than either Gayle or de Villiers, and his three biggest scores of the year came in Sunrisers' run to the IPL title,

Another way of measuring where a batsman lies on what we might call the Kohli/Gayle spectrum is to compare their strike rate (runs scored per delivery faced, where 100 means one run per ball) to the average number of runs scored per innings played.

Generally speaking, higher strike rates indicate frequent boundaries, and higher averages demonstrate consistency. In the scatter plots below, each dot represents one batsman in one year, so the further they are towards the right of the chart, the more aggressive their batting style, and the higher up the chart the more reliable a run-scorer they are.

Lines show a player's progression from year to year. Straight away we can see that Kohli's consistency has improved enormously from 2015 to 2016: he averages 57 runs every time he takes to the crease.

The second plot divides runs scored not by innings played, but by the number of times a player lost their wicket. Here Kohli is almost literally off the chart, so frequently does he remain in until the end of the match.

Note too how Warner is not as far to the right of the chart as Gayle or de Villiers, but is gradually moving higher in terms of average, suggesting that he is indeed both less gung-ho than the duo, and growing more consistent.

At 27 and 29 years-old respectively, Kohli and Warner are also younger than Gayle (36) and de Villiers (32). Both will hope to surpass Gayle's career total of 8,826 runs in Twenty20, and their progression suggests they have every chance.

The highest career run totals in Twenty20 cricket

Do you agree with the analysis, or would you interpret the numbers differently? Tweet or email with any thoughts or suggestions

Read more: Kohli was instrumental in India's run to the ICC World Twenty20 semi-final