Who is the cricket ODI GOAT?

Last updated 05:00 31/01/2014
Virat Kohli standard
Is India's Virat Kohli the greatest batsman ever?

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Few people in the world of sports are ever universally recognised as The Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.).

Names like those below are true rarities in the hypercompetitive world of sports history - they could be considered to be  'the best there is, best there was and best there ever will be'.

Muhammad Ali - Boxing

Michael Jordan - Basketball

Michael Schumacher - Formula One

Tiger Woods - Golf

When it comes to cricket batting there is one name you will hear as "the greatest", Sir Donald George Bradman.

The Don's record in test cricket is likely never to be equalled or approached. However, since he retired in 1948 he never had the opportunity to play in a One Day International (ODI) match.

ODI cricket is now 43 years old and with over 3400 matches played is as much a part of cricket as test matches.

Since the two forms of the game require such different skills, it is time to ask who is the ODI GOAT?

For 130 years if you wanted to see who the best batsmen were, it was a simple task to look at a player's average, and like so many things, biggest was best. The Don's test average of 99.94, which is over 30 runs higher than the next highest player.

It should therefore be as simple as finding the list of the highest batting averages for ODI (over a reasonable sample size) and whoever has the highest is the best.

These are the five players with the highest averages, who have played at least 100 ODIs.

Michael Bevan (AUS) 54.48

MS Dhoni (IND) 52.81

Virat Kohli (IND) 52.50

AB De Villiers (SA) 49.46

Mike Hussey (AUS) 48.15

Michael Bevan is the best ODI batsman of the past 43 years. Realllllllllly????

No, no, no. 

Bevan was a very good player but if I don't even think his mother, father or wife would say he was better than Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Isaac Richards, Ricky Ponting or about 20 other players than I can mention.

Averages alone are a poor measure of a batsman's performance in limited overs because they overrate not outs and therefore provide almost no value to a team's success. 

Also, Bevan's stats benefit from huge numbers of not out innings and this is the main reason for the high averages.

 Let's instead look at the following three factors, in descending order of importance:

- Runs scored / Innings played

- Strike rate

- Innings per century scored

This will remove the impact of not outs, allow us to compare strike rates and show how often each player made 'match winning' innings.

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So who then are the four contenders for the GOAT title?

Runs per inns Strike rate Inns per 100+

Virat Kohli (IND) 44.63 89.59 7

AB De Villiers (SA) 41.38 93.84 10

Sachin Tendulkar (IND) 40.77 86.23 9

Viv Richards (WI) 40.25 90.20 15

These four players are the only ones in history to average over 40 runs per innings (not outs being ignored) with an above average strike rate.

It's an interesting group too as their careers almost exactly cover the entire history of the ODI game, almost as if an invisible torch was being passed along.

So of this uber-elite group who is the GOAT?

My choice came down to a difficult choice between two players:

1. Viv Richards: Richards' average and hundred rate are excellent but what makes his record amazing is his strike rate of 90.20. For his era that number was far above his contemporaries.

The impact of Richards batting for the West Indies was that because he scored so much faster than anyone else, it gave his teammates ample opportunity to score at slower more traditional rates (60-70 strike rates) to accumulate team totals few opponents could match.

2. Virat Kohli ***Greatest Of All Time (GOAT)*** 

Viv Richards was an amazing player, and if you think I'm crazy for saying a 25-year-old is and will be a better player than him (and every batsman of the past 43 years) then I can't blame you.

But let me explain the case for Kohli.

He has the highest runs per innings average by a considerable margin. 

His rate of scoring hundreds (one hundred scored every seven games) is simply out of this world. To put it in context, he has scored 18 centuries in 127 matches; Jacques Kallis who is a true great of the game has scored 17 centuries in 325 matches.

The final argument for Kohli is a simple one, his age! Generally players do not arrive on the international scene as finished products, there are growing pains and adjustments to go through before a player reaches their true potential. Even the greatest players go through this. 

So what does that mean for Kohli? Will he average 55 runs per innings? Will he break Tendulkar's record of 49 ODI centuries? Will he be the first to score 20,000 runs?

To watch him play at the moment, all of those numbers seem to be in reach. There is a class and certainty about his play that sets him a cut above, even in an Indian side with a number of other talented and accomplished players.

His batting has a calmness to it that is rarely seen. His ability to score at a run a ball without seemingly playing a shot in anger is remarkable. Then when acceleration is needed his ball striking, placement and range of shots is second to none. He reminds me of a luxurious 500 hp Audi, in that he cruises along so smoothly at a fast scoring clip, but when he puts the foot down he can accelerate the scoring as fast as anyone in the world.

Watching the first two ODI matches between India and New Zealand was tremendous as a Black Caps fan, however at no stage whilst Kohli was at the crease in either match did I think the Black Caps were favourites to win those games.

It is a credit to Kohli's greatness that I was shocked (and relieved) that he was dismissed in both cases, such was the assuredness of his play.

Often greatness is only truly recognised after the player has gone, or once that player is on the decline from their peak levels. With Kohli we have the opportunity to recognise and appreciate him for (hopefully many) years to come.

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