From “God of Cricket” to “Run Machine”, Indian cricket has witnessed a huge change in its batting legends. The chants of “Sachin Sachin” in the late 90s and early 2000s have been taken over by the chants of “Kohli Kohli” these days. Televisions are still switched off when Kohli gets out which was earlier done when Sachin used to get out.
Sachin and Kohli are undoubtedly two legends of the game of cricket, and it’s a general tendency to compare the legends among themselves. Be it Kohli or Rohit, Sachin or Dravid, Ganguly or Dhoni on captaincy, and the biggest of all: Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli, the legends are always compared.
Before moving on to their on-field statistics, let’s see what the two had to say about each other.
Virat Kohli when asked about his views on being compared to Sachin, said that it is “unfair” to compare Sachin to anyone of his generation as he is someone because of whom they all started playing cricket.
He called Sachin the “most complete batsmen ever” and said that he had no chance of matching him in skill level.
The little master, on the other hand jokingly said “how about having both of us (him and Kohli) in one team” on being compared to Virat.
But who has better statistics? Let’s try to analyze the performances of Sachin and Kohli in ODIs and try to figure out the better batsman between these two!
The CSV used for the analysis is publicly available. It contained the batting performance of all the players inning-wise from the inception of ODI Cricket to India’s tour of West Indies in 2019. The data fields included features like runs scored, out or not out, balls played, strike rate, etc.
The data considered for analysis of Virat Kohli contains all the innings played by him from his first international 100 in 2009 to India’s tour of West Indies in 2019.
On a similar basis, for Sachin, the data of all the matches played by him within the period of 9 years starting from his first international 100(in 1994) are considered for analysis i.e. all the matches played by him between 1994 and 2003.
In this blog, in the first part, the overall figures for the given periods are compared between the two legends. In the next parts, each of the parameters is compared with its average value in the respective period and then compared amongst the legends of the game.
In conclusion, an attempt is made to answer the questions — who is a better batsman, and will Kohli be able to break the cricketing records set by Sachin Tendulkar?
Let’s start with cricket analysis.
Cricket Analytics breakdown
1) Overall Stats
In this section, the overall figures of both the batsmen in their respective periods are compared. The following parameters were considered for comparison: Batting Average, Strike Rate, number of half-centuries, number of centuries, and average contribution per match to the team scores.
It can be observed from the figure that Sachin has played a greater number of matches than Kohli in the 9-year period that was taken into consideration for them, clearly due to the introduction of the newer format of the game (T20Is) which has reduced the number of ODIs played by each team. Also, both have scored an almost equal amount of runs in the periods considered.
Contrary to the number of matches played, Kohli has a much higher batting average as compared to Sachin Tendulkar.
Continuing the same trend, Kohli has also scored more centuries in ODI cricket than Tendulkar during the same period whereas the number of 50s and the average contribution per match has been observed as almost the same for both.
Show this comparison to a statistician and ask him to pick the best between the two. He’ll definitely go for Kohli and why shouldn’t he? Kohli has much better numbers than Sachin in every parameter considered.
But show these numbers to a cricket fan from the 90s, and he’ll write pages telling the heroics of Tendulkar during that era, he’ll definitely go for Tendulkar and why shouldn’t he?
Tendulkar was the best batsman of that period scoring thousands of runs. There are a lot of differences in the game if we compare the generations of Sachin and Kohli.
Cricket has certainly become more of a batsman‘s game currently, which can be observed from the increase in 300+ totals and the number of individual 200s scored during this period. This has always been a problem in every field, not only cricket, of comparing the generations.
To overcome this problem, let’s try to work in ratios rather than absolute numbers. In the next section, the batting average and strike rate of both the players is compared after taking their ratios with their overall mean during the same period.
2) Batting Average and Strike Rate
In this section, the batting average and strike rate of both Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar are compared after taking the ratio with their overall mean in their respective periods.
To understand it better, let’s take the example of Sachin’s case from 1994 to 2003. During this period the mean batting averages of every player played came out to be around 17, and the batting average of Sachin during this period was around 48.
So, the batting average ratio for Sachin becomes 48/17 = 2.79 (approx.).
This method gives an approximate idea of how good the player was as compared to the other players during the same period.
This method can be effective in comparing the two generations of cricket. The following table shows the values of the Batting Average and Strike rate of Sachin and Kohli after taking the ratios with their corresponding means in their respective periods.
The above figure gives us a better idea of how good these players were in their respective periods.
It is clear that the ratio of batting average for Sachin is around 2.79 and that of Kohli is around 3.01 indicating that there is not much difference between these two batsmen.
A difference of 0.22 can be easily ignored since such a difference might easily arise due to the outliers.
What can be concluded from here is that both the batsmen are equally matched in terms of batting average.
Coming to the strike rate ratios, the SR ratio of Sachin (1.42) is slightly higher than that of Kohli (1.23), indicating that Sachin has been able to score runs at a bit faster rate than Kohli.
Still, the difference between them is not very large to come to the conclusion that Sachin is better than Kohli. The same logic goes for batting average, the difference between the two ratios is not that much bigger for us to conclude about the better batsman.
Also, they both have scored the most runs and faced the most number of deliveries compared to any other player in their respective periods, both being the best batsmen in their respective generations.
3) Half-centuries and Centuries
Comparing the number of half-centuries and centuries scored by these two batsmen is what most people judge who is best between Kohli and Sachin. So, here is our analysis for the same.
As per the comparisons, the ratios are compared rather than the absolute numbers.
The ratio of the number of centuries by either Kohli or Sachin and the average number of centuries scored by a player is taken for their respective time periods. The same goes for half-centuries.
A huge difference is observed in the average number of centuries scored by a player between the two periods with 0.68 centuries per player in 1994–2003 to 1.00 centuries per player in 2010–2019.
The following table shows the comparison of the ratio of both the parameters for both players.
As observed in the table, the ratio for half centuries is 14.29 for Sachin and 14.17 for Kohli which is almost equal with Sachin having a little advantage, and very little to ignore easily.
This indicates that the two players stand in the same position in terms of the number of half-centuries scored.
Now, the ratio for the number of 100s is 52.94 for Sachin and 41 for Kohli. This indicates a bit larger gap between the values for Sachin and Kohli indicating that Sachin was able to score more centuries, compared to other players during his period, than Kohli.
If this was the only parameter for judgment, then Sachin is the clear winner of the comparison between the legends.
4) Percent Contribution
In this section, the percent contribution of both the players to the team total is analyzed and compared. The team total calculated in this section does not include any extra run given in the match.
This number tells us how important these two players are/were for their team. The following table shows the percent contribution of both the players.
It can be observed that the contribution of both the players in their team total is the same with the contribution being 21%, the highest in their respective teams.
This means that both the players have been equally impactful to the team. This number also explains why TVs are still switched off after Kohli gets out, which was earlier the case with Sachin!
What do Legends say
1. Shane Warne
Former Australian legend and one of the greatest spinners of all time, Warne said that it was very hard to judge players who played in different eras. Calling someone better than Sachin, who played in the mid-90s when the pitches were much more favorable to the bowlers than it is today, was not right.
Even though Late Shane Warne had said that Sachin should not be compared to a player who was not from his generation, he expressed that he enjoyed watching Virat bat and that he would go down as one of the greatest ever, alongside Sir Viv Richards.
2. Sunil Gavaskar
While former Indian cricketer and current commentator Sunil Gavaskar has not openly said who he thinks is better between Sachin and Kohli, the little master had a word of advice for Virat after a poor series of displays in the England vs India test series in 2021. Sunny Ji urged Virat to quickly call Sachin by quoting: “He should give a quick call to Sachin Tendulkar and ask what should I do? ” said Sunil Gavaskar while commentating on the match.
So Who is Better: Sachin or Kohli?
If one has to compare the absolute numbers, then undoubtedly Kohli has performed much better than Sachin having played a lesser number of matches, still scoring runs at an average of around 60.
But since cricket (or any sport) is ever-evolving, it’s always unfair to compare generations.
Here in this Sachin vs Kohli comparison, ratios were used instead of the absolute numbers.
The ratios for Batting Average and Strike Rate were compared and it was observed that the difference between the two was almost negligible indicating that they both stand at the same position in terms of batting average and strike rate.
Then the ratios for the number of 100s and 50s were compared which were also found almost equal for both the players with Sachin having a slightly higher ratio for the number of 100s.
This indicates that although the batting average ratio for Virat Kohli is a bit higher, Sachin has a better ability to score big 100s.
Had these differences been much larger, we could have gone in favor of one batsman, but these differences in either ratio are too small to go in favor of one batsman.
In the last part of the comparison, the contribution of both players to the team score was considered, which, following the previous analysis, was found exactly equal, meaning that both players had an equal impact on the team scores.
So, from all these comparisons, it can be concluded that both the players are equally matched in the respective periods considered for them for comparison.