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By the numbers: Can Kohli top Tendulkar?

A closer statistical look at the ODI careers of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli's 30th one-day international century on Sunday has again raised the question of just how close the current India skipper will get to the ODI batting record of Sachin Tendulkar, which was once considered untouchable.

 

Kohli's 30th ton, an unbeaten 110 against Sri Lanka in Colombo, drew him level with Ricky Ponting as the second-most prolific century-maker in ODI history. Incredibly, given the Australian's lofty standing in the game, it took Kohli (186 innings) roughly half the number of innings as Ponting (365) to reach the mark.

And all this more than two months before his 29th birthday.

Based on Kohli's current rate of more than three centuries a year, the once unthinkable prospect of Tendulkar's mark of 49 ODI centuries being surpassed is now a very real possibility.

Even if the man himself admits it will take "a hell of an effort" to chase down the legendary Indian.

"The great man is quite a bit away," Kohli said on Sunday. "That's going to take a hell of an effort.

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"Again, I am not thinking about that. It's only about the team where even if I score a 90 not out and the team goes across the line, it's good enough for me.

"It's an honour for me to equal someone like Ricky Ponting. That's not something that you aim for but obviously he's a great player and as batsmen we all respect what these legends have done."

SACHIN v VIRAT


The Raw Numbers

Sachin Tendulkar
M: 463 | R: 18426 | Ave: 44.83 | 100s: 49 | 50s: 96 | SR: 86.23 | HS: 200*

Virat Kohli
M: 194 | R: 8587 | Ave: 55.75 | 100s: 30 | 50s: 44 | SR: 91.72 | HS: 183

The changing game

Any comparison of players from different eras must always come with a rider that all games develop over time. And no game has developed at quite the speed that one-day cricket has over the past three decades.

One-day internationals have changed immeasurably since Tendulkar played his first ODI way back in 1989, the year after Kohli was born.

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The introduction of Twenty20 cricket has played a major role in emboldening batsmen to adopt a more reckless approach against the white ball, leading to faster scoring rates, higher scores and more milestones in 50-over cricket.

Of the 35 highest team totals in ODI history, 34 have been scored since the turn of the century, 25 in the past decade and 17 in the past five years.

And while Tendulkar and India were at the forefront of the progression of one-day cricket in the 1990s and early 2000s, the game has moved forward at an even faster rate since.

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How many centuries would Tendulkar have scored had his career started 10 or 15 years later? Like most factors in this debate, that is an unknown.

How does Tendulkar compare?

With 8587 runs and 30 centuries after 194 games, Kohli holds a significant advantage over Tendulkar at the same stage of his career.

Tendulkar played his 194th ODI in July 1998, at which point he had 6942 runs and 'just' 16 centuries.

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Kohli's average (55.75 to 40.59), strike rate (91.72 to 85.33) and half-centuries (44 to 42) also put him well ahead of his predecessor at the same stage of his career.

While comparing eras is always fraught, the younger man has made a rapid start in his pursuit of Tendulkar's record.

How is Kohli tracking?

Based purely on Kohli's current rate, he could break Tendulkar's record of 49 centuries before his 35th birthday.

Kohli currently scores a century every 6.47 games and over the course of his career has played roughly 21 matches per year. Based on those numbers, he will score his 50th ODI century some time in 2023.

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That, of course, is based on the assumption that Kohli can maintain the incredible pace he has set so far in his career.

As India's captain in all three formats, as well as the skipper of his IPL franchise, it would be entirely expected that he would have a dip in form at some stage over the next six years.

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But India's love of ODI cricket shows no signs of abating; while they played just 13 ODIs in 2016, a year dominated by Test cricket, they have averaged around 23 ODIs per year over the past five years.

If Kohli's mind and body is willing, Tendulkar's record appears his for the taking.