How India’s top order has been babysitting the rest of India

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Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have raked up such a remarkably consistent tally of performances in recent times that the Indian middle order has had something of a sinecure.

The top three Indian batsmen, centered around Virat Kohli, have spearheaded India to 21 victories since the last Champions Trophy. | PTI

“There is a lot of codswallop spoken and written about the No. 3 spot. For instance, some have said it’s the most difficult batting position when it is, in fact, the best place in the order to bat. A good No. 3 has the opportunity to set the pattern of play rather than follow the established trend. It’s far easier coming in at one [down] for very few [runs] than three [down] for not many [runs]; one wicket can be a fluke, whereas three down is a collapse.”

These were the words of Ian Chappell on the importance of a no.3 batsman, published on ESPNCricinfo in 2013. Arguably, it is the most discussed batting position in the game of cricket and, more often than not, is occupied by the best batsman in the team. Several legends of the game have made the coveted spot their own over celebrated careers and the latest to join the bandwagon is none other than the audacious outspoken darling of the media, Indian skipper Virat Kohli.

Such has been Kohli’s influence in the top three in ODIs that India’s middle-order (from no.4 onwards) is able to virtually enjoy a never-ending paid vacation. The bulk of the scoring has come from the top three particularly with the openers contributing heavily in the company of Kohli. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are usually manning the top of the order and tackling the brand new ball, barring the occasional opening stint or two that Ajinkya Rahane and Lokesh Rahul get. While India’s opening partnerships haven’t been quite as consistently magnificent, the ones with Kohli have been outstanding.

 

 

If we look at ODIs after the 2015 World Cup held in Australia–New Zealand, the list of best partnerships from the top-three batsmen have three sets of Indians in the top five, which is unsurprisingly a tri-series between Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

 

 Best partnerships since 2015 World Cup from positions 1-3

Partners

Runs made

Century stands

Average

Hashim Amla–Quinton de Kock

2,164

4

54.1

Alex Hales–Joe Root

1,673

5

69.7

Virat Kohli–Rohit Sharma

1,502

6

83.44

Virat Kohli–Shikhar Dhawan

1,428

6

89.25

Rohit Sharma–Shikhar Dhawan

1,391

5

40.91

 

While Amla–de Kock and Hales-Root have been more successful in terms of the number of runs scored, the presence of the Indian top three batsmen in three of the five best partnerships (two of them at better averages) show how India have been boosted by their top order. A combined tally of 17 century partnerships have come from among the Rohit-Dhawan-Kohli triumvirate alone. The only other partnership to have as many as six hundred stands (besides Kohli’s associations with Dhawan and Rohit) is the Eoin Morgan–Joe Root pairing.

If you look at the combined run tally of the top three batsmen in the same time frame, India tops the chart with a whopping 9,076 runs in 59 matches at a more-than-robust average of 60.10 (the next best average is 46.79 by South Africa).

 

Performance of Top 3 batsmen across International teams since 2015 World Cup

Team

No. of ODIs

No. of Runs

Total runs by team

Top-3’s percentage of runs

India

59

9,076

14,620

62.08

England

58

7,039

14,918

47.18

South Africa

53

6,832

12,883

53.03

New Zealand

57

6,790

13,626

49.83

Australia

55

6,712

12,974

51.73

Sri Lanka

64

6,150

13,457

45.70

Pakistan

52

5,782

12,202

47.39

Zimbabwe

57

4,609

10,357

44.50

Bangladesh

40

4,133

8,558

48.29

Afghanistan

40

3,524

7,789

45.24

Ireland

34

3,349

6,528

51.30

West Indies

39

2,736

7,211

37.94

 

In terms of runs, India has had the bulk of its scoring — 62.08% — coming from the top three. This is much higher than the next best team, South Africa’s corresponding figure of 53.03%.

There have been 31 individual hundreds and 52 half-centuries from the top three Indian batsmen since the last World Cup, which roughly equates to 1.41 50+ scores every match. England are a distant second with 1.086 and their overall tally of runs and averages pale in comparison to those of India’s top three.

 

 Conversion rates of Top 3 batsmen across International teams since 2015 World  Cup

Team

Average

100s

50s

50+ scores

per match

India

60.1

31

52

1.406

England

45.12

18

45

1.086

South Africa

46.79

19

38

1.018

New Zealand

42.7

13

45

1.017

Australia

43.86

19

37

1.018

Sri Lanka

34.55

8

42

0.781

Pakistan

39.06

16

28

0.846

Zimbabwe

28.45

6

20

0.456

Bangladesh

37.91

7

27

0.85

Afghanistan

31.46

4

24

0.7

Ireland

35.25

8

16

0.705

West Indies

25.81

3

9

0.307

 

While there have been several players at the top for India since the World Cup, the three that stand head and shoulders ahead of the rest are the familiar suspects — Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli. Unsurprisingly, Kohli is the highest run-scorer post the World Cup and Rohit Sharma comes in at third behind Joe Root and his skipper. Dhawan is some way down at 13th in the run charts and has half the number of tons as Rohit Sharma but amidst some petty scores, there have been a few big knocks.

Listing individual feats of the three, we notice that Kohli is way above the remaining two in terms of consistently hitting the big knock. He racks up a 50+ score every second innings (1.92 to be precise) in ODIs since the World Cup. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan haven’t been as consistent but one of them has managed to click and stay put with Kohli in most games. This is proven by the fact that India’s second wicket has fallen after 140 in 10 of the 26 matches India have played since the Champions Trophy in England in 2017.

 

 Consistency since 2015 World  Cup

Player

ODI inngs

Runs

Average

100s

Inngs/100

Inngs/50+ score

Rohit Sharma

45

2,374

57.9

10

4.5

2.36

Shikhar Dhawan

41

1,854

48.78

5

8.2

2.27

Virat Kohli

50

3,051

80.28

13

3.84

1.92

 

As the table shows, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan notch up a 50+ score every third innings in ODIs and their averages aren’t as out-of-the-world as Virat Kohli’s. But expand the pool to some of the biggest scorers in the game since the World Cup and you see that aside from Joe Root (who makes 50+ scores quicker than Kohli, as often as every 1.91 innings) nobody has a quicker rate of making 50+ scores than the three Indian musketeers.

 Rate of failure since 2015 World  Cup

Player

ODI inningses

Scores below 25

Ducks

Inngs/sub-25 score

Rohit Sharma

45

23

3

1.95

Shikhar Dhawan

41

18

1

2.27

Virat Kohli

50

17

2

2.94

 

Compare the two tables and you see that Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are more likely to make a half-century than get out for below 25, while Dhawan is as likely to get a score within 0-25 as he is to get a 50+ score. This alone reflects the importance these players hold in India’s ODI line-up.

The consistency with which these three have performed masks India’s middle-order collywobbles to a great extent. There have been some worrying trends in the lower middle-order, particularly with MS Dhoni not as much of a force as before, but the startling returns from Virat Kohli and his openers have ensured India lose minimally — 5 defeats and 21 victories in ODIs since the Champions Trophy last year. Need I say more?

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