Constantly featuring in three formats in international cricket is taxing than it was ever before. Each of these three formats hold something special. ODI cricket has the biggest tournament - The World Cup. Test cricket is the pinnacle of this sport while T20 cricket brings money through franchise-based cricket. It is a no-brainer that every cricketer wants to make it big in all three formats.
The quest to become an all-format batsman was triggered from the success of the maiden T20 World Cup in 2007, which further led to the advent of T20 leagues around the world. Co-incidentally, it was also the starting point in their careers for a majority of the modern-day greats.
However, the contrasting demands of the formats and cramped schedules has demanded extreme professionalism from cricketers. Evidently, picking and choosing has to be done amongst the three formats to a certain degree.
Currently, only a small bunch of batsmen have been able to answer all the questions laid by the three formats with only Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson making the cut amongst those who came to the horizon alongside the rise of T20 cricket - before 2010. This small club also includes two budding cricketers - Quinton de Kock and Babar Azam who have recently shone irrespective of the format.
Some big names come under the list of honourable exclusions. The only reason David Warner is not a part of this elite group is because of his below-par away average (33.2 in comparison to 65.9 at home). Steve Smith plays the toughest form of the game - Test cricket - the best (averaging 62.8 in 73 Tests) and has time and again showed his utility in white-ball cricket as well but still has not made enough T20I runs (681 runs at 29.6 runs per dismissal). Similarly, Joe Root’s ODI numbers are on the rise but the England captain has not played enough T20Is to be a part of this elite group.
After revitalizing his career as an opener in white-ball cricket, Rohit Sharma left a good impression as a Test opener with scores of 176 and 212 in the three-match Test series against South Africa last year. But whether he can replicate the same in overseas conditions or will he go the Warner route, only time will tell.
What makes Kohli, Williamson, Babar and de Kock tick? here is a look:
The Indian skipper has mastered all three forms to unbelievable levels. He averages in excess of fifty in all three formats - 59.3 in ODIs, 50.8 in T20Is and 53.6 in Tests alongside a convincing strike-rate of 93.3, 138.2 and 57.7 respectively.
The consistency at which he has churned out match-winning scores in white-ball cricket has baffled cricket pundits. In Test cricket though, his evolution can be considered a little slow. He scored 2,994 runs at an average of 44 with 11 hundreds in his initial 41 Tests. These are good numbers but fades a little in front his exponential growth in ODIs and T20Is till that point. Since then, Kohli has averaged 63.4 in 45 Tests amassing 16 hundreds. Seven of them have been double hundreds. At this point, Kohli has a Test hundred in every nation he has played except Bangladesh where he featured in only one Test.
Today, it has been exactly 10 years since Virat Kohli made his T20I debut - against Zimbabwe in Harare. At present, he is one of only two (out of 267 T20I batsmen from Test playing nations) to average above 50 in T20Is (minimum 20 matches played). Only two others average over 40 which shows the gulf between Kohli and the others in this format.
Kohli can be credited in successfully unlocking the formula of T20 batting for batsmen who wish to play all formats of the game without compromising on their technique. As a T20I batsman, Kohli has laid emphasis on keeping his dot-ball count as low as possible. Amongst the batsmen with over 1,000 T20I runs, he has the second-lowest dot-ball percentage.
The Indian skipper achieves this by giving utmost importance to running between the wickets and gets himself going pretty early in the innings. His strike-rate catapults from 115.6 in the first 10 balls in his innings to 171.3 afterwards. The number signifies Kohli requires lesser time than his peers to get his eye in, enabling him to 2,794 T20I runs, the most in the format.
Kohli still has a decent number of years left in his career and what astonishing numbers he can scale in that time with his current fitness and work ethics, we can only leave it to our imagination.
Quite like Kohli, Kane Williamson is from the class of 2008 where he captained New Zealand in the U19 World Cup and is currently leading the senior side, in all three formats. He also has gone on to become a classical all-format player.
In 2015, the late Martin Crowe suggested that he will be the greatest ever Kiwi batsman and so far, Williamson is on his way to prove him right. At present, he is the only batsman in New Zealand Test history to average over 50 which showcases why Crowe thought so highly of him. He scored back-to-the-wall match-winning hundreds, staging series wins for New Zealand in Sri Lanka and UAE. At home, he has piled up mammoth scores turning the Kiwis into a force to be reckoned with.
Williamson single-handedly carried New Zealand to the final of the 2019 World Cup in his dual role as the captain and side’s prime batsman. His tally of 578 runs was 228 ahead of Ross Taylor’s, their second-highest run-scorer in the tournament.
Williamson, however, is a different kind of a T20 batsman. A crisis man in a line-up in which he comes to bat after the madness of the opening pair - Martin Guptill and Colin Munro - Williamson’s game, at most times, looks like an extension of his strokeplay in Test and ODI cricket. He maneuvers the ball beautifully, exploits the gaps to collect boundaries. But this is enough for Williamson to boss the best bowlers in the shortest format.
During the third T20I against India in January this year, he collected 25 runs off 12 deliveries from Jasprit Bumrah towards the backend of the innings. That innings of 95 is one of the most pristine T20I knocks that you will ever see and established the Kiwi skipper’s command over all formats. The 2018 IPL, where Williamson struck 735 runs in a similar fashion was proof that he is capable of producing such knocks more often.
International cricket’s return to Pakistan after six years, in 2015, also marked the arrival of Babar Azam who made his debut in the third ODI against Zimbabwe. If his career until now is any indication, he will break a lot of batting records, at the very least in Pakistan cricket and across all three formats.
Impressing with a fluent 60-ball 54 on his debut, Babar has been Pakistan’s batting mainstay ever since. In white-ball cricket, he averages above 54.2 in ODIs and 50.7 in T20Is striking decently at 87.1 and 128.1 respectively. In a cricketing nation marred with brittle batting over the years, the 25-year old provides the stability their side has yearned for so long.
He has contributed 19.3 percent of his team’s runs - nearly every fifth run scored by Pakistan in a match, involving Babar, has come from his bat. In T20Is, he has scored 26.9 percent of his side’s runs. Although, as an opener, his strike-rate (132.1) is on the lower side given the current T20 standards but given Pakistan’s reliance on their bowling and the fact that they play most of their games on the sluggish tracks of UAE, Babar’s solidity is something that his side can ill-afford to dispense with.
However, Babar’s last three T20I fifties - which have come at a strike-rate of 155.3, 131.6 and 150 - show he is working on the pace of his run-scoring as well. He is also the only batsman to pip Kohli in terms of playing a lesser proportion of dot balls (mentioned in the graph above).
At Test level, much like Kohli, Babar also had a slow start but his class was always eminent. The world took notice of it when he creamed Dale Steyn for four boundaries in an over twice in the Centurion Test in 2018. Since then, moving up to number three, he notched up a hundred in Brisbane, scored a 97 in Adelaide and registered two more tons at home against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since 2019, he has scored 759 runs at an average of 75.9 proving Pakistan has a batsman to carry their fortunes across all formats.
Quinton de Kock
Quinton de Kock made his international debut at 20 in 2012 and before turning 22, he was South Africa’s unrivalled choice for the wicketkeeper-batsman spot in all three formats. He lost that in the Test side briefly but in white-ball cricket, he has established himself from the very beginning. No other wicketkeeper has scored more ODI runs for South Africa, no other opener has scored them at a quicker pace even when the cut-off is kept as low as 300 runs.
However, de Kock ticked the box to be a potential all-format great with his brilliant batting in Test cricket last year. In a South African side that lost three Test series in a row, mainly due to their shoddy batting, de Kock has been their only batsman to average above 40. He achieves that despite coming in with the task of arresting top-order collapses.
His 111 against India in Visakhapatnam was one of the most high-class hundreds in a losing cause in recent memory. Currently, de Kock averages 33 away from home. But the Visakhapatnam hundred was a sign that he is not troubled by difficult conditions; that he is not bothered by spin unlike his team-mates, instead he feasts on it with the expertise to counter-attack.
Having been recently announced as South Africa’s full-time ODI captain, de Kock has the heaviest workload on his shoulders than anyone else in world cricket. He is only 27. How he manages captaincy, opening the batting in limited-overs cricket to go with his wicketkeeping, remains to be seen.