Home » CricViz Analysis: Babar and Virat – One and The Other

CricViz Analysis: Babar and Virat – One and The Other

Ben Jones looks at the similarities and differences between two T20 stars.

Babar Azam and Virat Kohli are the same.

They stand together as two of the best batsmen in the world. They are two men brought together by their utter brilliance with a bat in hand. They define their sides, one with a captains’ armband, the other through weight of runs and expectation. They attract idolatry and eyeballs from all over the world. They are unavoidably tied together, inescapably kept apart.

The extent of the similarities between Kohli and Babar’s T20 records is borderline absurd. Given the numerous non-sporting reasons for these two men to be compared, it is staggering that on purely cricketing grounds they are so closely aligned, so tightly in each other’s shadow.

The basic record of these two in T20 cricket is above anyone else – they are alone in a league of their own at the top of the table. In T20 internationals, one averages 50.80, the other averages 50.72. Nobody else averages more than either of them, these two the only men to average over 50 in this form of the game with anything like a substantial career behind them.

They made progress at a similar rate in the early stages of their career. Only one man (Ahmed Shahzad) has scored more T20 runs before their 26th birthday than one of them, the other coming in a close fourth. They both stand as remarkable examples of what a talented young batsman can achieve if they are given a platform, and trusted to make the most of that opportunity. They are both prodigies.

The sum of this prodigious skill is that, when they are on, they are on; the peaks they have are huge, because players of this talent leave an imprint. Last year, one made three T20 centuries. Only two men ever have made more in a calendar year – Chris Gayle in 2011, and the other in 2016.

However, these are in essence just statistical quirks; Billie Eilish and Mark Nicholas have made exactly the same number of Test runs, but you imagine they’d look rather different at the crease. No, the similarities between Babar and Virat go deeper than simply their run returns.

The sense of class and control in the air when these two are batting is measurable. In the last two years, they have both faced more than 1,000 deliveries in all T20 cricket. Yet they have edged or missed an identical percentage of the deliveries they have faced; whether you are one or the other, 13% of the balls you have faced have been met with a false shot. It’s all the more extraordinary that such a high level of control makes them the joint best in the world in this regard.

Both generally play as an anchor in the top three, so it’s not a surprise that they seem to work at a similar tempo. Their levels of intent, the ratio between looking for boundaries and rotating the strike, are identical. Since the start of 2018, they both attack exactly 55% of the balls they face. In that time, they both play a rotating stroke exactly 39% of the time.

The areas of the pitch where they score their runs are exactly the same. They split the field with exactly the same weighting, both scoring exactly 44.6% of their runs through the offside, 55.4% through the legside.

Their attributes, their specific batting traits beyond runs and rates, are as in-sync as everything else. At CricViz, we use all the data from a player’s career – the shots they play, when they play them, the contact they make with the ball – to give them a rating for different aspects of batsmanship. The two most fundamental are ‘Attack’ and ‘Timing’, essentially calculating the relative attacking intent for a batsman, and the quality of the contact they make with the stroke they play.

Given the similarity in their roles, it is no real surprise that the Attack Ratings for these two are very, very similar, but the uncanny similarities come when we look at their timing. From 132 players ranked by their ability to make clean contacts, these two men are separated by two places, one the sixth best in the world at timing the ball in T20, the other the eighth best.

All these technical similarities and similar approaches mean that just as they succeed in the same way, they fail in the same way. Bowl at their stumps as a seamer, and you’ll get one of them out every 17.7 deliveries – and you’ll get the other one out every 17.8 deliveries. For both, 13% of their dismissals come nicking to the wicket-keeper. Again, we are in the realm of statistical quirks, but knowing what we do about how closely these two stand together, it’s hard to ignore.

This entire conceit is unfair, of course. One is not the other, the other not the one. Both of these players are wonderful, transcendent batsmen in all formats, so complete that they can dominate both the oldest and newest forms of the game. They reflect 2020, and T20, in every way. They are individuals with unique back stories and unique histories, but they are distinct. They are two actors playing the same role, on different stages.

The PSL opens on Friday. The first time the tournament will take place entirely in Pakistan, it represents a unique occasion for a country deprived of the game for too long. Babar will be turning out for Karachi Kings, looking to dominate this homecoming season and stamp down a marker – World Cup, here I come.

In a month or so, Virat will do the same, in rather less unique circumstances, but with no less expectations. Royal Challengers Bangalore may have changed their badge, but Kohli will be all too aware that cosmetic changes are the least of their worries. His own form as captain and player will be under more scrutiny than ever before. India expects victory in Australia, and whilst this isn’t an audition, it’s a litmus test.

Two men alike in dominance, who have never faced off in this form of the game – neither has played the other in a T20. Two young men with so much shared, so much between them, have never shared a pitch in this form of the game. And so the next few months will see these two players moving ever closer, circling towards the World Cup itself; they may not meet, India and Pakistan for once kept apart in the group stages, but there’s the familiar scent of destiny about this one. They’ll find each other, at some point in that tournament, you feel.

In the meantime, Babar and Virat stand together. The same player in different sides. Separate, and equal. One, and the other.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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