Mumbai: If there was one year that you could relive over and over again, which would it be?
For Virat Kohli, the answer may well be 2016.
He has widened the gap between himself and other top order batsman in the world to the highest ever in his career, even as he notched up an enviable captaincy track-record.
One could begin with Test matches. This has been Kohli’s best year yet. He has scored 1,215 runs at an average of 75.94 in his eighteen innings. His previous best average was 56 in 2013.
The performance stands out especially well when compared with his top order peers. The median batting average for those in the top seven batting-order slots was 31.25 for 2016 in the same period. The difference between the averages of Kohli and his peers is 44.69. He has never pulled so far ahead of the pack in any year since the start of his career in 2011.
A similar trend is seen in one-day internationals. Kohli made 739 runs in his ten outings in 2016. His average of 92.38 for the year is 66.11 more than the median top order ODI batsman during the same period. This is also the highest difference between Kohli and his peers since his career began.
Another interesting comparison is his performance in T20 games. He had 13 innings, scoring 641 runs. More than half of these (7) were not outs. This has helped his average to climb to 106.83 compared to a median of 17.5. The difference between the two is a full 89.33—also a career high.
The batting success comes despite the burden of captaincy, and not at its cost.
He didn’t lose a single Test match in 2016, and in fact has only lost two since he took over as captain in 2014. The year’s unbroken streak helped his win/loss ratio to climb from 2.5 at the end of 2015 to 7. This means that he wins more than half-a-dozen matches for every one match that is lost. Kohli is now ahead of all former Indian captains who led the team in ten or more Tests. Test matches have been considered because the format allows for comparison across eras, unlike one-days or the T20 format.
There are certain caveats that should be kept in mind.
More than two-thirds of all his victories have come playing on home grounds. He has won only four matches abroad. Two of these have been against the West Indies Test team. The team is ranked eight among Test-playing nations, with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe behind it. In fact, his win-loss ratio drops from six to two if one looks at only away matches.
However, this is still the highest of anyone who has captained India in ten matches or more abroad.
Could other factors also be considered while examining his batting performance? How much of the surge can be attributed to the influence of wider bats, bowlers becoming less lethal and tracks more batsman-friendly; even in countries traditionally known for the grass they left on the pitch?
These factors may well have contributed but their influence is difficult to quantify. While the fact remains that Kohli would have rode these tailwinds to reach great heights, 2016 is definitely his breakaway year.