By: Chinmay Vaidya
A few days ago, Virat Kohli celebrated his 30th birthday. 30 is typically the age where we see athletes in general start trending down in their performance, but there are always exceptions. The great Sachin Tendulkar is one of them and Kohli appears to be another. This is cricket's version of Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James.
Kohli became the fastest player to reach 10,000 one-day runs in the second ODI against the West Indies, breaking the mark previously held by Tendulkar. The effort once again sparked the conversation about whether Tendulkar's seemingly impossible mark of more than 18,000 ODI runs was actually within reach.
If you extrapolate Kohli's numbers as they are and give him the same number of innings as Tendulkar, it's not even a contest. However, this doesn't account for natural decline and a potential rest plan for Kohli later in his career. Let's take a look at where Kohli would stand after the 2023 calendar year. This would take him through his 35th birthday and India's 2023 World Cup.
Here's an overview of Tendulkar's and Kohli's raw numbers. Note that filtered average eliminates "not out" designations and is an alternate measure of how many runs a batsman actually scores in an innings.
Tendulkar - 452 innings, 18,426 runs, 44.83 avg, 40.76 filtered avg, 49 100s, 96 50s, 18 nervous nineties
Kohli - 208 innings, 10,232 runs, 59.83 avg, 49.19 filtered avg, 38 100s, 48 50s, 6 nervous nineties
Two things jump out almost immediately: Kohli is the better run-scorer and the better finisher. He's averaging almost nine more runs per innings than Tendulkar did and he doesn't usually get out in the 90s. This is why Kohli doesn't have a lot of half-centuries. He either gets out before that point or goes on to get the century. Let's now project what Kohli's numbers will look like by the end of the 2023 calendar year.
These are projections for one-day numbers only. I'll start by looking at the number of matches and innings Kohli is projected to play. Here's a look at his ODI game log over the last four seasons. I've included data from 2011 (a World Cup year) and 2013 (a Champions Trophy year) to add a wrinkle to the game projections.
2018: 14 so far, projected to play 17
Kohli is playing less ODI cricket than he did in the past and he might even be playing less cricket overall than before. This will help stave off any major decline as he ages and BCCI will surely manage Kohli's workload. We already saw it this year when the team pulled him from the Asia Cup.
Based on the above metrics, Kohli plays an average of 14 one-day games in a non-World Cup and non-Champions Trophy year. In World Cup years, he averages 27 ODIs. In Champions Trophy years, he averages 30. However, based on his age and potential management program, I'm going to project him for 25 ODI matches during the 2021 season and 20 during the 2023 season. This gives him the following game log through 2023:
This will give Kohli 103 additional games (we're projecting three more ODIs this year) by the time he's 35. Based on his career average, this results in 99 innings (note that a match doesn't necessarily equate to an inning). We'll assume 95 innings based on a rest program or a potential role change.
Now we need to factor in potential decline using Tendulkar's numbers as a baseline. Here's Tendulkar's statistics from his 20s and then from age 30-34.
Tendulkar 20s: 252 innings, 10699 runs, 34 centuries, 42.46 runs per inning, 13.5% century rate
Tendulkar 30-34: 102 innings, 4142 runs, 8 centuries, 40.6 runs per inning (1.82% decline), 7.8% century rate (5.% decline)
The key number to look at is century rate. Since Kohli's conversion rate is unreal, a potential decline in this area will theoretically greatly affect his run total. We've already projected the number of innings Kohli is going to play. If we assume a similar decline across the board for Kohli, here's what his numbers will look like.
Kohli 30-34: 95 innings, 47.87 runs per inning, 12 centuries
Kohli numbers at end of 2023 year: 303 innings, 14780 runs, 48.77 filtered average, 50 centuries
The bottom line is Kohli will break Tendulkar's mark for one-day centuries. But by age 35, he'll still be 3,646 runs short of the ultimate mark for most one-day runs. This is where we look at the twilight of Tendulkar's career and see an interesting development.
Tendulkar post-35 numbers: 46 matches, 2065 runs, 7 centuries, 44.89 runs per match, 15.21% century rate
Tendulkar was excellent in the last stages of his career. Because of a relatively smaller sample size, the century rate is inflated but the point still stands. Kohli will have to make sure he carries his production through the end of his career to have a chance at catching Tendulkar's run total. Rest, an emphasis on ODI cricket and the potential for increased motivation as he draws closer to the mark should help Kohli in the last phase of his playing days. He'll catch Tendulkar's century mark, but the ultimate total might remain with The Little Master.