The debate over whether Virat Kohli should open the batting in T20 cricket will rage on. Here we consider his record and stats as an opener inc. his average, strike rate, record in the powerplay and the influence that Kohli opening the batting has on his team as a whole.
Let’s begin with the top line stats for Kohli as an opener in T20 cricket – this includes T20i and IPL matches that Kohli has played in.
|Innings as an opener||71|
|Average as an opener||46.24|
From the outset we can see that Virat Kohli’s record as an opener in T20 cricket is impressive and his average is certainly a lot higher than that when he bats in any other position. The vast majority of the games that he has played as an opener have come in the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore while for India he has played the role only 8 times and until he opened for his team vs England on 20th March 2021, he hadn’t opened the batting for his country for almost 3 years going back to a T20 game vs Ireland in 2018 when he was dismissed for just 9.
Those who argue that Kohli should open the batting in T20 cricket will point to his ability to score big when leading from the front.
|Career 100s / 50s||5 / 67|
|Opening 100s / 50s||5 / 18|
As you can see, all 5 of Kohli’s T20 centuries have come when he opens the batting. He passess the 50 run mark once every 3.09 innings as an opener compared to once every 3.86 innings when he doesn’t open. These stats are probably not that surprising given that in any limited overs format, batsmen coming in higher up the order will have a greater opportunity to build an innings and make a big score.
Strike rate is all important in T20 cricket and particularly so during the powerplay. Below is Kohli’s record as an opener in that regard.
|Career Strike Rate||133.54|
|Strike Rate Opening the batting||139.76|
|Career Powerplay Strike Rate*||115.06|
|Powerplay Strike Rate when Opening*||124.44|
Time at the crease undoubtedly contributes to Kohli’s ability to score faster during the later stages of a T20 innings and therefore in that regard allowing him to open the batting makes sense. Still his strike rate, particularly in the powerplay, as an opening batsman is not spectacular.
To put that into context let’s look at the powerplay strike rates of other established opening batsmen in T20 cricket. As Kohli hasn’t played many games as an opening batsman in T20i cricket for us to make a fair comparison , we’ll only be considering his powerplay run rate opening the batting in the IPL v the other 10 most prolific opening batsmen who are still playing in the tournament.
|Batsman||Strike Rate in the Powerplay as an opener|
|Q de Kock||131.30|
|F du Plessis||130.98|
Of the 10 other players playing in IPL 2021 who have scored the most runs opening the batting, all of them have a better strike rate than Kohli during the powerplay with the exception of Ajinke Rahane, a player who has pretty much been deemed surplus to requirement at the highest levels of T20 cricket and is unlikely to be opening the batting for Delhi this year.
A higher strike rate by opening batsmen in the powerplay is usually driven by hitting boundaries while the field is up. Kohli’s record as an opener in T20 cricket (IPL only) in this regard is shown below
|Balls per 4 hit in the powerplay||6.84|
|Balls per 6 hit in the powerplay||29.48|
|Balls per boundary (4 or 6) in the powerplay||5.55|
Kohli the opener in T20 cricket hits a boundary about once every over that he faces in the powerplay. Again, let’s see how that compares with his peers in the IPL
|Batsman||Balls per boundary (4 or 6) in the powerplay|
|F du Plessis||4.90|
|Q de Kock||4.96|
As we can see from the above table, every single one of the 10 other most prolific opening batsmen still playing in the IPL scores a boundary (4 or 6) more often than Kohli does during the powerplay.
Does this make Kohli a bad option to open the batting in T20? Not at all. However what it does mean is that he needs to be paired with an opening batsmen who starts their innings faster and is better able to utilise the field being up during the powerplay. Let’s look at who Kohli has opened with in the past and how that has impacted his performance and RCB’s performance in the IPL.
Below we look at the batsmen that Kohli has opened with in IPL T20 cricket and how that has impacted his record and the RCB’s record.
|Opening Partner||Innings||Kohli Ave||Kohli S/R||Win %|
|Q de Kock||2||110.0||142.86||0%|
Gayle and Kohli’s opening partnership stands out and if you look back at the record books for the years that they played most together (2015 & 2016) you can see just how effective Kohli was as an opening batsmen when paired with a bigger hitting and faster scoring partner. The trend continues when Kohli opens with KL Rahul and Quinton de Kock whom we’ve seen in the stats above both start their innings as openers at a faster pace than he does.
The most recent period that Kohli played as a regular opener in T20 cricket was the 2019 IPL where he primarily partnered Partiv Patel and as we can see from the stats above was far less successful. Patel had significant experience as an opener in T20 cricket but his Strike Rate in the powerplay when opening was just 121.54, pretty pedestrian compared to some of the others we’ve considered. The impact on Kohli’s record that season is clear as no doubt the scoreboard pressure built on the RCB captain, forcing him to play in a manner that he is unaccustomed too.
It’s perhaps also evident from the above that Kohli and RCB as a whole benefit from a settled opening partnership in T20 cricket. His record with anyone that he opens the batting with 5 times or more has helped deliver a good win % in what is a very competitive league. Of the more experimental opening partnerships throughout the years, Kohli and RCB’s record in T20 is played 14, won 1, lost 12, 1 no result which I think we can all agree is pretty awful!
Going forward then, for Kohli, RCB and India to be successful with their captain opening the batting in T20 cricket, they will require him to form a settled partnership with a player who has more of a power game in the first 6 overs, allowing Kohli to play 2nd fiddle and anchor the innings through the middle period before exploding at the death.
In the 5th T20i against England when we saw Kohli and Rohit Sharma open the batting, I think we saw a perfect example of what is required with Rohit playing the role of the aggressor and Kohli ticking along at just over a run a ball. Kohli was further helped by the fact that Suryakumar Yadav came in at 3 and took over from Rohit meaning that Kohli could keep accumulating and laying a platform for later in the innings. This is surely the blue print that India will look to build on for the T20 World Cup if they are determined for Kohli to open during the tournament.
As for the IPL, RCB may find that they don’t have an opener with the record or experience that Rohit Sharma possesses in this form of the game. Devddut Padikkal is the man who will likely open with Kohli this season and while the youngster made an impressive start to his T20 career with 473 runs opening the batting in IPL 2020, his strike rate and overall power game does not seem compatible with that of Kohli’s to suggest that RCB or the player himself will benefit from this partnership.
Padikkal’s record as an opener in IPL cricket has him with a strike rate in the powerplay of 121.43, lower than Kohli’s and lower than most of the established batsmen we’ve considered before. In fact it’s unnervingly similar to that of Partiv Patel’s and for Kohli and RCB that was not a partnership that bore fruit.