Over the last couple of years quite a few batting legends have departed from the game: Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Mahela Jayawardene, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Kumar Sangakkara have all retired from the international scene. Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are still going strong for Pakistan, but they’re the exceptions; mostly, the last couple of years have been about a change of batting guard. With Shivnarine Chanderpaul nowhere to be seen and Kevin Pietersen no longer in the minds of England’s selectors we have to ask ourselves, who from the current crop of players could end up being an all time great? Immediately, four prominent names crop up, namely, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Steven Smith and Joe Root. We shall analyse their performances in both Tests and limited overs (ODIs and T20Is) and come up with a conclusion on who is slightly ahead in each format.
CRICKET’S BEST YOUNG TALENTS
Batting Averages (Home/Away)
Kane Williamson 57.18/45.15
Virat Kohli 46.78/43.00
Joe Root 60.66/43.00
Steven Smith 63.86/55.92
It’s often said that we shouldn’t conclude anything on the basis of pure stats. A break-up of home and away numbers indicate that all four have better stats at home, which isn’t a surprise, but Kohli and Williamson have plenty of runs in away Tests, while Smith and Root have scored most of theirs at home. Six of Root’s seven centuries have been at home and his only away ton was in the West Indies earlier this year. In seven Tests in Australia and New Zealand, he averages only 23.33, with one half-century in 13 innings. He has played only one Test in Asia, and none at all in South Africa. The tour of South Africa at the end of the year will provide us a fair idea of how he copes with the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander on bowler-friendly pitches.
Williamson’s stats are slightly deceptive, hurt by a slow start to his career. After scoring a ton on debut against India at Ahmedabad in November 2010, Williamson had to wait until March 2012 for his next century. But the Kiwi star is beginning to show his potential. The right-hander has averaged 78.43 since the start of 2014, scoring eight centuries, including an unbeaten 242 against Sri Lanka at the start of 2015. On the other hand, he has an average of 10.75 in South Africa and averages just above 30 in England, India and Sri Lanka. His record in New Zealand and Australia, as expected, is exceptional, with him averaging above 70 in those places. Earmarked to be the country’s greatest ever batsman, Williamson is going at the right direction at the moment.
Virat Kohli too had a slow start to his career. It took him eight Tests to make his first century, before finally getting one against Australia at Adelaide in 2012. From that Test onwards, Kohli has averaged 50.10. Only 27 years of age; Virat Kohli has already scored hundreds in Australia (5), New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa, showing an ability to adapt to most conditions. For Kohli too, England has been a cause of concern. In ten innings in England last year, he aggregated only 134 runs. However, in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, he has been outstanding and has done as well as any of his much famed predecessors have done in those conditions. He averages an extraordinary 64.26 in twelve tests there with a total of seven centuries.
Steven Smith played just five Tests before 2013 and averaged less than 30. Ever since, he has impressive average of 61. He had more than made up for his slow start and after his first 30 Tests, Smith had scored 2,925 runs. Only two players in history have scored more runs in their first 30 Tests, and they’re both knights; namely Sir Don Bradman and Sir Everton Weekes. To put it forward in a more contemporary standpoint, at the same stage in their careers, Root had scored 2,586 runs, Williamson 1,910, and Kohli 2,111. However, one must consider the fact that Australia have played most of their cricket at home in the last couple of years but take nothing away from Smith, who has been supremely consistent. He still has many years ahead of him to show his prowess in various conditions across the globe.
It is hard to separate these four classy batsmen, but if I had to rank them in order, looking at their performances all over the globe, I’ll rank them from best to worst – Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root.
LIMITED OVERS CRICKET
Batting Average/Strike Rate
ODIs T20s (International & Domestic)
Kane Williamson 48.02/84.19 24.30/120.06
Virat Kohli 50.60/89.50 35.37/128.97
Steve Smith 39.22/86.95 27.96/123.54
Joe Root 41.90/83.46 27.00/121.09
These days ODIs have almost become an extended version of T20s, so, in my opinion, it’s fair enough to compare these four players with an analysis of both the formats as a whole. I firmly believe that the best limited overs players are match winners, who can win a game for you singlehandedly. Without a ray of doubt, it’s quite obvious who the biggest match winner and the best player among the four are, in limited over formats – Virat Kohli. He has been a spectacular batsman in the last 4-5 years in these two formats and has won innumerable matches for India in that period. He has a flawless record while chasing targets in ODIs, averaging above 61 at a strike rate of close to 92. Out of his 23 ODI centuries, 14 have come while chasing, and 13 of them have been in successful run chases. Many innings stand apart and vividly in memory, like the 183 vs Pakistan while chasing 330 in Mirpur; his 133 off 86 balls when India had to chase 321 runs in less than 40 overs against Sri Lanka in Hobart; and 100 off 52 and 115 off 66 balls in the same series against Australia in 2013. One could say he is the best chaser of targets in the modern game without any hesitation. His record in T20s is remarkable as well, averaging above 35 and doing so at a strike close to 130 is quite extraordinary. One can only imagine how much more he can achieve and dare I say, Sachin Tendulkar’s 49 ODI centuries record is under threat.
Steven Smith has a relatively modest record in limited overs cricket. This is not to say he isn’t a good player in these formats, but he just hasn’t done enough so far. Surprisingly, he averages below 30 everywhere except Australia in ODIs. He averages an impressive 55 at home, though. He had a great World Cup, but hasn’t really done much of note before and after that, in this format. He obviously will go on to become a better player but until now, he has not had the best of time in these two formats. Sooner or later, he will start being more consistent in these formats.
Kane Williamson wasn’t quite considered as a limited overs batsman when we first entered the scene. His technique was viewed as more suitable to Test cricket and many wondered if he could adapt to the limited overs format. But boy, he has turned out to be an instrumental player for New Zealand in this format and his record speaks for himself. Averaging close to 50, he has certainly improved leaps and bounds and is one of the top batsmen in the limited overs game. At the crease, Williamson is comfortable against pace and spin, and he trusts the coaching manual explicitly despite the revolution of batting in this era and it’s working extremely well for him. He has done well in the shortest form of the game as well and will be vital for New Zealand’s hopes in the World T20 next year.
Joe Root is a slender batsman who relies more on precision than weight of stroke and has displayed that all his career. He has had a pretty good ODI and T20 career so far but leaves you wanting a bit more every time. He has the ability to do much better than what he’s done so far in his limited overs career and he himself will know that. An average of a shade above 41 and a strike rate of 83 is quite decent but he surely can do much more than this. He has certainly raised a notch as far as his T20 game is concerned and is definitely England’s most vital player along with Eoin Morgan in these two formats.
Overall, it’s not that intricate to say in which order they rank, in the limited overs format. In my opinion, this is how it stands, from best to worst – Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root, Steven Smith.