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AB de Villiers vs Virat Kohli: Who is the greater limited-overs batsman?

20.15K   //    08 Feb 2016, 00:14 IST
AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli may be great competitors, but they are friends off the field

International cricket was all about 5-day matches until that eventful day on 5 January 1971 which would change the game for good. Australia and England, the two oldest teams in the sport, locked horns in the first ever One Day International, a 40-over affair where the men from Down Under emerged victorious.

Many variants ranging from 35-over matches to 60-over matches before finalizing on the 50-over cricket that is played in ODIs till date. This exciting new format of the game was well received and soon became a vital inclusion in the cricketing itinerary. As time passed on, the frequency of ODI cricket increased several notches and even surpassed Test cricket in many countries, particularly those from the Indian sub-continent.

With too many 50-over games taking place, things started reaching a burnout stage as the relevance of matches reduced and even the shorter format of cricket started to feel a bit too long. A change was badly required to save not only the two formats of the game but cricket as a whole from fading away gradually. This refreshing change came about with the advent of T20 cricket with the first ever T20 international between Australia and New Zealand in 2005.

Since then, all three formats have been played on a regular basis and have benefited each other from time to time in some way or the other. Limited-overs cricket these days comprises of both ODIs and T20Is and each format has its own stars. However, there are a few players who have excelled in both formats and made their respective countries proud.

Kohli and de Villiers: Geniuses of Limited-overs Cricket

The two limited-over formats of the game have seen their own set of heroes. ODI cricket, which is the older format, has been taken to dizzy heights by the likes of Vivian Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist, Virender Sehwag, Wasim Akram and Muttiah Muralitharan among many others. On the other hand, players like Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Shahid Afridi and Lasith Malinga have been superstars of the T20 format.

With more T20 cricket played these days than ever before, there has been an increasing trend of players balancing their act in both shorter versions of the game. This is something that has been more prevalent in the batting trade and arguably the two finest examples of batsmen who possess this special trait are India’s Virat Kohli and South Africa’s AB de Villiers.

In the current scene, de Villiers and Kohli are perhaps the two cricketers who set the standards for limited-overs batting. While Kohli does it with his consistency and aggressive approach, de Villiers uses his highly innovative shot-making and ability to dominate proceedings. These two modern-day geniuses share a rivalry reminiscent of the one between Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara in the peak of their Test careers.

Since the magnitude of the impact that AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli have made on the limited-overs game is in a similar vein, we are compelled to ask the big question, “Who is better?” Although it is among the toughest questions to answer, we attempt to find a suitable answer by comparing their statistics in different limited-over formats.

ODI Cricket: Battle of the Run Machines

Both AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli have been absolute run machines for their respective countries in ODI cricket. Their success in the 50-over format has been largely unmatched and they have already etched their names among the greatest batsmen to have played ODI cricket.

There is really not much to choose between Kohli and de Villiers in terms of ODI batting statistics as they present a fairly similar picture. While the fiery Indian batsman has scored 7,212 runs in 171 matches so far, the South African master is slightly ahead at 8,484 runs in a higher number of games, 197. de Villiers edges out Kohli even in terms of his average, which is slightly over 54 compared to the latter’s 51.51.

AB de Villiers197848454.03162*100.042348
Virat Kohli171721251.5118389.972536
  • *ODI statistics as at 7 February 2016
  • The Indian Test captain scores over his South African counterpart in terms of centuries with 25, which he got in the quickest time, as opposed to 23. However, AB de Villiers pulls one back on his RCB teammate with 12 more half-centuries than Virat’s 36. Perhaps what separates these two modern-day greats most in ODIs is their respective strike rate, which is where de Villiers towers over Virat Kohli by striking at more than 100 runs in the same number of balls.

T20I Cricket: Largely One-Way Traffic

In T20 internationals, it is extremely difficult to place Kohli and de Villiers in the same league, at least in terms of numbers. The dashing Indian batsman is currently miles ahead of the Proteas genius in the international version of the shortest format.

Going through their T20I figures will tell you exactly why we are saying this. Virat Kohli has played only 33 matches compared to the 63 played by AB de Villiers, but he has a higher run tally than his rival. Kohli is the only batsman in T20I cricket to hold an average in excess of 50; de Villiers, on the other hand, averages a lowly 22.88 for his 1,167 runs so far.

Virat Kohli33121550.6290*136.51012
AB de Villiers63116722.8879*125.8806

*T20I statistics as at 7 February 2015

India’s superstar batsman also enjoys a superior strike rate over the South African class act at 136.51 in contrast to the latter’s 125.88. Virat has twice the number of fifties as de Villiers’ 6 in T20I cricket. India’s successful run in T20I cricket in recent times can be largely attributed to Virat Kohli’s exploits with the bat.

T20 Cricket: Healthy Competition

The statistics for both these batsmen are much closer when it comes to T20 cricket overall, which includes international matches, the IPL and other domestic T20 cricket. Virat has scored more T20 runs and has a better average, although slightly inflated due to his T20I average.

Virat Kohli178504636.5699129.98035
AB de Villiers186426831.15133*139.65224

Where de Villiers scores over his RCB teammate in T20 cricket is his higher strike rate of slightly under 140 and the fact that he has scored 2 centuries, whereas Kohli has none. And even though, the Indian genius is the captain for their IPL side, AB de Villiers is the more popular player and the one RCB fans swear by.

How they fare when needed most

In their respective teams, the stature of both these cricketers is pretty similar. If AB de Villiers is the Proteas batsman opposition teams want to dismiss, Virat Kohli forms the backbone of the Indian batting line-up.

Australia is considered to be the benchmark in ODI cricket and both batsmen excel against the Aussies with de Villiers averaging just under 63 and Kohli over 55. But the South African marches ahead in India-South Africa 50-over encounters with a supreme average of 53.29 as against Kohli’s 39.68.

AB has played one more World Cup than Virat and averages a staggering 63.52 in 23 matches. On the other hand, the wristy Indian batsman has a comparatively lower average of slightly below 42. But Kohli takes the cake mainly because he was part of India’s World Cup-winning campaign and played an important role.

Expectedly so, Virat Kohli has been a far stronger performer in the World Twenty20 with 504 runs in 17 games at an average of 72. AB de Villiers, meanwhile, has 607 runs in 26 matches at a modest average of under 29.


The debate about who among Kohli and de Villiers is the better batsman in limited-overs cricket is bound to continue long after the two have hung their boots for good. But if one was to choose a winner based primarily on cold hard statistics, it would have to be Virat Kohli.

If it was only about ODI cricket, AB de Villiers was certain to have the upper hand, albeit marginally. However, T20Is are integral to limited-overs cricket these days and India’s star batsman is completely dominant over his greatest rival in the shortest format.

In terms of popularity, though, de Villiers is right up there with the best of all time and even Kohli’s own countrymen will agree to this fact.

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