Virat Kohli versus Steven Smith, is the comparison even justified?
As we all know, Australia and India are no strangers to international cricket triumphs. Both sides boast of powerful batting potential, currently glued together by just two young guns, Steven Smith and Virat Kohli. These batsmen are worthy of profuse praise, that’s for sure, given their careers are backed by super numbers and zero hype.
But the real question is, does that justify a convincing contrast between the two? Statistics indicate a clear no. Allow me to throw in some numbers and explain just why.
Imbalanced comparisons: Ratio of matches to runs
First things first, Smith has been an irregular customer for the Aussie ODI IX. In the five years since his debut against West Indies in February 2010, the 26-year-old youngster has only managed 58 games for his country, with 1,549 crucial runs on record. Now inject a threefold increase in Smith’s number of games, you get a piece of Kohli. With 161 ODI games for India, Kohli is just 414 runs shy of the 7,000 club. I believe you can do the remainder of the math from here.
The T20 story is no different either. Although both batsmen have played less than 30 games each, Smith enjoys a bowler’s batting average of only 14 (158 runs in 21 games), whereas here too, Kohli maintains a productive ratio of 28 matches to 972 runs (averaging 46.28).
The Test format of the sport is perhaps the only favourable match for both players. Smith’s career remains in kissing distance to the 3,000 runs club in only 31 games, whereas Kohli, in his 34 games, has just recently passed the 2,500 landmark. Smith is undisputedly in the lead here, but it has to be noted, the lead is far from an unsurpassable one.
Moreover, this is just one out of three formats we are talking about. Kohli’s stellar proliferation of runs in the rest of the two formats leaves Smith lagging well in the distance.
Pressure machines: Kohli’s glory, Smith’s first taste
Smith’s unorthodox mastery of stroke-play comes with great stamina, and Kohli’s textbook perfection comes with calculated restraint. Doubtlessly, these dominating personalities of modern day cricket are pressure’s greatest adversaries. Smith’s pressure-play was in ample evidence when he struck 190 runs against Pakistan in the crucial October 2014 ODI series in UAE, along with a match-sealing hundred against India in the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup.
The recent Test double ton in the recent 2015 Ashes series is just another log to a flame full of reasons for the bloke to be deemed a player of sheer character and resolve.
In similar regard, Kohli has had his share of triumphs under pressure, so how do we create a distinction between the two here?
Simple, lets take frequency into account.
Kohli’s six-hundreds against Sri Lanka alone include an unbeaten 133 on the neutral turf of Hobart. The youngster gunned down a mammoth total of 320 for India in that game with over 13 overs to spare. Twenty days later, he repeated history in Dhaka, outshining Sachin Tendulkar with a brilliant 183 against a mighty Pakistan bowling attack, murdering the chase to 329.
Thus, along with 10 Test tons, Kohli’s impeccable batting has earned him 22 career-defining ODI hundreds. The bloke averages over 41.3 in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, not to mention an overall average of 47.5 against the current top eight ODI sides in the world.
Quite definitive, yes?
All-round performances: Smith’s utilities, Kohli’s adaptation
The gist of 21st century cricket is all-round skill. Smith overtakes Kohli in terms of bowling, offering handy leg-spinners to Australia whereas Kohli’s bowling can be best described as below par. Both gentlemen are a treat to watch in the field, but the phenomenal agility and intensity in Smith’s fielding sneaks him a point ahead of Kohli’s own athletic splendour. Captaincy is in its nascent stages for the two, making it premature to declare a victor. Therefore, Smith is your ultimate man of utility.
Adaptation on the other end is Kohli’s game. As stated earlier, the young gun’s ultra rare quality to acclimatise to differing conditions and bowling attacks, without compromise on output makes him a top choice. His batting is charged with a series of gears, allowing him to practice run-a-ball circumspection or ruthless hitting, any of the two on demand.
Smith, on the other hand, follows measured stroke-play as a rule of thumb, yet to demonstrate rapid flexibility in his batsmanship.
Given the disharmony in comparative statistics, rather than contrasting Kohli with Smith, it would be accurate to declare Smith a follower of the former’s footsteps. A glorious rise does not equate firmly established class. With that said, the former can always end up paralleling the latter in the years to come.
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