In an endless list of individual and team sports, cricket finds a unique spot. Different from the pacier and messier team sports when one group of players is against the other group throughout the tussle, cricket involves a bunch engaged against only two players from the opposition at a time. Thus, providing an opportunity for individual brilliance to create a lasting impact in a sport that requires a team effort over a broader period.
Given the very nature of how probability works, it is rarer for two batsmen to click on the same day. Out of 8883 T20 matches so far, only 476 (0.05%) witnessed a century while only four (0.0005%) observed two in a single innings.
In their 11th match of the 2016 season of the IPL, not surprisingly and true to their tournament reputation, Royal Challengers Bangalore were reeling in the bottom-half of the table with just four wins till then. In a narrative replayed more often than comic book characters in movies, the RCB bowlers, or the lack of them, were letting the team down, unable to defend a target of 170 or more in four other matches in that season.
Batting first, after Virat Kohli lost the ninth toss in the season, RCB were 136/1 by the 15th over mark against Gujarat Lions - nothing exceptional but good enough for the fans to remain engaged as Kohli and AB de Villiers were intact after a century stand. While the cricket-lovers of yesteryears are left wondering about the possibility of a Tendulkar-Lara partnership, franchise cricket turned such a fantasy into a reality.
That evening, the duo stunned the audience, the bowlers, and their peers and probably even themselves. AB motored from 77 to a 100 in the very next over and moved to 112 at the end of the 17th. There was absolutely no way that Kohli – 52 off 41 then – eyed a century with only three overs to go. What followed was carnage as they added 60 off the next two overs with Kohli scoring 43 of these as if to prove to his partner ‘if you can I can too’. Two more sixes in the last over earned him an unlikely century – third of the season – as they added 112 runs in the last five overs, 11 more than the next best in T20 history. Till 2019, their stand of 229 was the highest in T20 history. It still is the second-best.
Post the innings, Jos Buttler laid the situation out in a tweet saying, “This is like Ronaldo and Messi on the same team!” Since the instigation of this alliance before the 2011 season, 41.5% of all RCB runs have come from the broad blade of these two – the most for the top two scorers from any side, in this period. Such has been the dependence of RCB on these two and Chris Gayle, who added 15.6% before moving on, that the next significant contribution is as low as 3.6% by Parthiv Patel. Contributing individually and as a pair, Kohli and de Villiers have 2902 partnership runs to their name – the highest in T20 cricket since 2011.
‘You complete me’
The Joker acknowledged the presence of the Batman for he pushed his limits in his quest for creating chaos. Drawing parallels in sport, the same is true for Messi-Ronaldo, Federer-Nadal to name a couple though they aim to conjure awe-striking moments in their pursuit for greatness.
While not in direct competition with each other while playing for RCB, it is the gap that the other fills that makes Kohli and de Villiers click together. To quote a cricketing cliché, they complement each other well.
AB is perhaps the most clinical ball-striker the game has ever seen, equipped with boundary strokes that defy cricketing logic. Characteristically, he has a higher boundary percentage (% of balls hit for a boundary) as compared to Kohli in every phase of an innings. What helps them is that Kohli, with his limited armoury, is much more methodical with a similar style of play across formats. In IPL, he has a higher non-boundary strike-rate than de Villiers across phases ensuring enough strike for the more expressive South African.
The balancing nature of their enterprise is not limited to the style of play. Like a match made in heaven, one’s weakness is counterbalanced by other’s strength – AB’s struggle against legspin is countered well by Kohli whereas, de Villiers takes care of offspinners and left-arm orthodox bowlers that the RCB skipper struggles to dominate relatively.
Consistency vs Flair
It will be incorrect mathematically and observationally to say that Kohli and de Villiers are similar batsmen even though both have 45% of their runs on the off-side and 55% on the leg in IPL since 2011. Kohli is the Ronaldo to de Villiers’s Messi, the Djokovic for AB’s Federer – let us save Nadal for Steve Smith for the subservience to rituals if not for anything else.
While Kohli edges de Villiers on average, the Pretorian is miles ahead in batting strike-rate. The difference between their playing styles is evident in their respective performances in their team’s wins and losses.
Kohli sheds 18.5 runs per innings in losses while for de Villiers, this figure is as high as 58.2. The drop in strike-rate too is much higher for de Villiers – 31.7 vs Kohli’s 16.4.
Both have 24 forty-plus scores each in team wins, Kohli has 25 in losses as compared to 16 for de Villiers. The difference in consistency is even more evident when we look into their differences in the two batting parameters while batting first and second.
Being one of the best chasers in white-ball history, it is rather surprising that Kohli’s record in the first innings is similar. For de Villiers, it is evident that he does not enjoy chasing a target as much as setting one.
Despite their different styles and helped by contrasting approaches, the pair is one of the most fearsome in T20 cricket. It is due to the presence of these two that a rather mediocre and underperforming RCB side enjoys a huge fan following who garner expectations of winning the title before every season. It is the individual brilliance of the two legends that enable their side to compete in a team sport.