Orville Higgins | Gayle vs Kohli: Who is the real T20 master?
I was saddened earlier this year when it appeared that Chris Gayle would not have made it to the Indian Premier League. When the history of the T20 format is written, undoubtedly Chris Gayle will play a prominent role, as the man who set the style and the tempo, which we all have come to take for granted. His powers appeared to be waning, when over the last two seasons, he was not the marauding force he was in his prime. Between 2016 and 2017 he scored only 427 runs from 19 games, with only three fifties. He also suffered the ignominy of being almost overlooked for the 2018 IPL season. With seemingly something to prove, Gayle appeared to turn back the clock in his first two innings this season in the IPL, scoring 63 and 104 for two man-of-the-match performances.
Gayle's stats in T20 cricket makes for impressive reading. He has hit 21 centuries, three times the amount by the next best man. In the IPL he has hit 100 more sixes than anybody else. He is the only batsman to have scored over 10,000 runs in T20 cricket. He is usually taken for granted as the greatest T20 batsman ever. After his 100 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, I was waxing lyrical about Gayle being the supremo in T20 cricket, when an Indian friend of mine said the only reason why we in the West Indies thought Gayle was the best ever T20 batsman, was because he was from the Caribbean. He said all things considered, Virat Kohli should be considered ahead of him. I was instinctively prepared to dismiss it, and then I took the time to look up the numbers.
In 57 international T20 games, Kohli averages 50.84. He has never scored a T20 international hundred, but he does have 18 half centuries with a strike rate of 137. Gayle has played a fairly similar amount of international T20 games. In 55 international T20 games, Gayle averages 33.81. Where Kohli does not have any international T20 hundreds, Gayle has two, with a higher strike rate of 145. That is significant. That is a clear 16 runs difference between the two. Gayle would have been not out on only four occasions, while Kohli would have been not out on 14 occasions.
The greater amount of not outs would have helped Kohli's average, but it could be argued that in international T20s, Kohli would have been simply the harder man to get out, while Gayle's more explosive nature, would see him scoring quicker, but also being more easy to dismiss. They would have played in the same era, against pretty much the same opposition. It is fair to say that in international T20 cricket, Kohli's stats are so vastly superior, that it is impossible to put Gayle ahead of him.
Settlement of argument
Some would say that should end the argument. The IPL is seen as the best T20 competition in the world, both in terms of razzmatazz and the quality players involved. If we agree, however, that international T20s are ahead of the IPL, then Kohli is indeed the man. The IPL does have the luxury of drawing for other people from outside India to strengthen their teams, but there are also a lot of domestic Indian players in the IPL, that probably would not have made it into some of the best T20 teams in the world. Whether international T20s is at a higher standard than the IPL, is therefore debatable, and which of the two you see as being better, may well come down to how one answers that question.
Let us look outside of international T20s. Kohli would not have played domestic T20 cricket anywhere else in the world except India. He has played domestic T20 cricket only in the IPL and would therefore always be playing in familiar conditions. In the IPL, Kohli averages 38.17 with a 130 strike rate after 153 games. Gayle on the other hand is a globe trotting gun for hire. Gayle averages 42.62 in IPL alone, after 103 games with a strike rate of 152 and six centuries. In the IPL then, Gayle is marginally ahead in terms of average, with a vastly superior strike rate.
In Gayle's overall T20 career, he has played well over 300 games with an average of 41.15. Does that put him ahead of Kohli, or does Kohli's international record give him the edge? The Kolhi supporters would argue that in big games, for club and country, Kohli is more likely to turn up with a match-winning performance, while the Gayle fans would say he has a much more mesmerising effect on opposing bowlers. All things considered, where is your money? I know who is ahead, but what say you?