Explosive ODI batting exploits of the likes of Virat Kohli, Quinton de Kock and Babar Azam in recent times have raised that inevitable question – will any contemporary batsmen ever catch up with the little master’s records?
After the recently concluded one-day international (ODI) leg of the New Zealand tour to India, Virat Kohli has once again climbed back to the summit of the ICC ODI batting rankings. He had temporarily lost the top spot to AB de Villiers for a period of ten days, but claimed it back with his twin tons in the ODI series. He wasn’t the only one with a prolific October. South Africa’s AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock plundered monstrous hundreds (176 and 168 not out, respectively) against the hapless Bangladesh team at home. Meanwhile, in the UAE, against a similarly listless Sri Lankan team, Pakistan’s Babar Azam notched twin hundreds of his own, as did Rohit Sharma against the visiting team from Oceania.
More significantly, Virat Kohli also recently amassed 889 ICC rating points— the highest by an Indian batsman ever. He thus overtook Sachin Tendulkar’s highest rating of 887 that he achieved in 1998, his ODI annus mirabilis, when he scored a gargantuan 1894 runs at an average of 65.3, with a strike rate of 102.15. When Tendulkar retired from ODIs, in 2012, it was then taken for granted that the dozens of big records he set during his 23-year career would not be broken in living memory. But with the emergence of a new generation of extremely fit batsmen weaned on a diet of T20s combined with flat pitches, that perception has begun to change in some people’s minds.
Going by the explosive performance of some of the top ranked ODI batsmen in recent years, it seemed like at least some of Tendulkar’s records might be in danger of being eclipsed. For example, it is worth noting that at least six players in our list of 10 best contemporary batsmen who have played more than 100 ODIs already have a better average than him, as indicated by Chart I. And two of the top-ranking ones – Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla – even have a better rate of scoring centuries and half centuries for every ODI they play. For clarification, it has to be said that the little master’s batting average was never the best in the game, and certainly not part of his plethora of records.
It is also important to note that Tendulkar’s averages are based on the staggering 463 ODI matches he played. None of the world’s current crop of 10 best contemporary ODI batsmen has played even half that number of matches. AB de Villiers, who has played the most ODIs in our list, is already 33 and so is unlikely to play for much longer. And there is only one man who has played 300 + ODIs and has a batting average that is better than Tendulkar – M.S.Dhoni.
Going by Table II, where we have extrapolated the statistics of the best ODI batsmen based on their current performance to see when they would catch up with Tendulkar, it looks like they will never be able to do it, except with an outside chance for Kohli to break one of his records. It would, for example, take 34-year old Hashim Amla, playing at the same level of skill and consistency as today, 15 more years to play as many ODIs as Tendulkar, 11 more years to overtake him in the total number of runs scored, 7 years more to score the same number of hundreds, 14 years to score the same number of 50s and 18 years to win as many Man of the Match trophies. All of these look next to impossible. If you were to use an age cut-off of 40 years (which is extremely generous), it is safe to say that Tendulkar’s ODI records are out of bounds for almost everyone. Root and Williamson, if they are still playing in their late 30s, will probably come close to scoring as many 50s. The young Pakistani cricketer, Babar Azam, could get close to Tendulkar’s 100s record by the time he is 34, if he continues unhindered on his current batting spree for the next 11 years. But more plausibly, Virat Kohli could overtake the same record in five years, when he would be still only 33.
On the whole, statistically speaking, the only threat to a Tendulkar record comes from the current India captain. The challenge for the latter would be to keep his consistency of performance, year after year, which is bound to be an onerous task considering the pressure of playing so many Tests, T20s and IPL these days. Tendulkar did not have to deal with T20s and IPL till the fag end of his career. So, the best guess would be that bulk of Tendulkar’s ODI records will remain with him for at least another generation, till the time a cricketer even more talented than Virat Kohli comes along.