Smith’s Incredible Run of Form Pushing Kohli Out of The Picture
Despite missing an entire year of cricket, Steve Smith is back at the top of ICC’s rankings for Test batsmen.
The ‘Fab Four’ quartet is quickly splitting up and it's not just because Joe Root has failed to live up to the standards the other three have maintained.
Steven Smith has punched well above his weight this year in the short duration he has played, and with a double hundred at Old Trafford, has taken his average to 147.25 in 2019. Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson now appear as distinct shadows to the former Australian skipper, who has sprinted ahead to create a league of his own.
Smith's incredible run of form has now raised comparisons to Kohli's own masterclass in home Tests since 2016.
A comparison is essential to identify the progress of two of modern cricket's greatest batsmen. We split criteria to identify how the two have fared over the years.
Playing Home and Away
Excelling at home in familiar territory is one thing but doing the same across conditions is the quality of an exceptional batsman. Indians are often accused of struggling to match the standards they set at home in greener pastures away from home but Virat Kohli has been an exception.
He has notched up centuries in South Africa, England and Australia in recent tours and has led the team from the front. His place in the ‘Fab Four’ was insured long back but after a terrific home season, that form translated into runs abroad and at one point it seemed as though Kohli was truly the head of the pack.
All this while, though, Steven Smith was close on his heels but when he was suspended for a year, Kohli surged ahead.
However, it took Smith just four innings to snatch back what seemed rightfully his as he milked England's bowlers in their backyard with incredible consistency in the ongoing Ashes.
In five of the eight countries that the two have played in common, Steven Smith reigns supreme. At home, he averages an indomitable 77.25 as against Kohli's average of 64.68 at home. Even in India, Smith has managed an average above 60, only marginally less than Kohli himself.
In the West Indies, where Kohli has always struggled (an average of 35.61), Smith averages a stunning 141.5. Where Kohli does stand out is in South Africa, where his average of 55.8 trumps Smith's average of 41.1. In none of the other countries does Kohli have a significant lead over Smith.
On the other hand, Smith's averages in Australia, England, West Indies and New Zealand trumps Kohli's by a large distance.
Steve Smith and Virat Kohli made their entry into Test cricket in completely contrasting ways.
If Smith was expected to uphold Shane Warne's rich legacy as a leg-spinner, Virat Kohli was the prodigy whose mesmeric run of form for under-19 sides helped him make an entry into a power-packed Indian batting line-up.
Both had shaky starts as batsmen in their Test career but it took little time for them to start owning their place in the world stage. Both started making significant progress in their careers after a couple of years.
Smith averaged 72 in his second year in International cricket but he played only one Test in that year. The leg-spinner, that Australia thought he was, underperformed and wasn't seen in Test colours for a year. He missed 2012 entirely but since 2013 has taken the world by storm.
Even as critics and analysts pointed to Smith's confounding technique as easily breachable, the execution got tougher with each Test as the Australian, making a mockery of Test match batting techniques, found a way to score runs in the most bizarre way possible.
From his nutmegs to dramatic leaves and loopy cover drives, everything about Smith's shot-making had a breathtaking appearance to it. He just found ways to score runs and did so consistently well.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Virat Kohli who was making run-making fun but in textbook style. His cover drives showed the batmaker's name. His pull and cut were taken straight out of a batting manual. But runs flowed as thick and fast.
In the home season in 2016 and 2017, Kohli had averages greater than 75. What he probably didn't realise was that Smith was extremely close behind him, breathing down his neck. If he just about missed beating Kohli's average in 2016, in 2017, he overtook the Indian by a point.
Then came the ball tampering row and the subsequent ban. But now, a year later, Smith has taken just four innings to make up for lost time.
In 67 Tests, Smith has 6788 runs at an average of 64.65. Virat Kohli, meanwhile, has almost as many runs (6749) but it has come in 12 Tests more and at an average of 53.14. Smith has three half-centuries - 25 of them - and one hundred more - 26 of them - than Kohli. To catch up with Kohli in terms of averages, Smith will now need to make 22 ducks on the trot.
He has shot up to no.1 in the ICC rankings ladder and now has eight successive fifty-plus scores in the Ashes. In 2019, despite missing 212 days of Test cricket, Smith is the leading run scorer in the format.
He hasn't just edged ahead in the race for the best batsman of his time but surged ahead so much so that Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root appear as dots in the distant horizon. In the World Test Championship, Smith averages 147.25. Kohli averages 34, Root 29.33 and Williamson 8. The Australian has created a league of his own and is ruling Test cricket like the Don from his country did eons ago.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN.This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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