One of the biggest troublemakers in current scenario od cricket is none other than Virat Kohli, in the positive sense. In the past one-one and a half years, whenever Kohli has walked into the field, he has given serious insecurities to his counterparts and time and again, he has driven journalists crazy in the lookout for a new adjective that would relate to Kohli’s achievements in a more accurate way. He is the instigator who instigates fear in the opponents, who feel the pressure even before the tour starts. When South Africans will sit to chalk out a plan for the Indian skipper, their premier attention would go on Kohli’s back to back two Test centuries in his last two Tests.
Even before Kohli took up India’s Test captaincy, he was well established in the current fab-four along with Steven Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson, so there was never any question about his capability as a Test batsman. India began their 2016 season with the tour of West Indies and that would be India’s only for the rest of the season. It was the West Indies series where Kohli switched gears and there was no looking back for him since then. With every series, he just left everyone in awe with his achievements. During the West Indies tour, Kohli scored his maiden Test double century and also entered the club of Indian Test captains to have done so.
In the same series, Kohli had made a significant statement. “We are not at a stage now where we need to come and improve. We should be ready enough in international cricket to start dominating Test matches and win those crucial situations and sessions. That’s how we become a better team. If you think we are going to keep learning every series, learning every game, we will never get that hunger and that mindset to win games from difficult situations. We need to challenge ourselves a little bit, which this team has been willing to do and which is a wonderful sign,” Kohli said.
If there is someone from Team India who has followed Kohli’s advice is the man himself. Following the West Indies tour, India’s big home season began: they hosted New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. Nobody knew Kohli was about to touch the invincible-mode; he scored a Test double hundred each in the next three series and became the first-ever batsman to score a Test double century in four consecutive series. With that, he went past legendary Don Bradman and Rahul Dravid who had done it in three successive series.
Prior to the Border-Gavaskar series at home in February 2017, India were on a streak of 13 unbeaten Tests. That was broken right into the first Test when Smith and Co sealed the first Test at Pune. It was the series that differentiated the two batsmen in sensational form – Kohli and Smith. While Smith came with a team that had just come out of transformation, Kohli already had a well-established side and top of it, they were the No. 1 Test side in the world too.
Australia have rarely tasted success in the sub-continent and there have been a handful of Australians batsmen who have shone in India with the bat. The list does not even include former Australian captain and one of their greatest batsmen, Ricky Ponting. However, Smith joined the likes of Steve Waugh and Michael Clarke among the Aussie skippers who have performed well in India, as a batsman.
While Kohli, who had four Test doubles in his last four series, finished with 46 runs in 3 Tests at an awful average of 9.20, Smith, the away captain, on the other hand, was the top-scorer of the four-Test series with 499 runs at 71.28 which was inclusive of three brilliant three centuries.
Prior to the India tour, Australia were whitewashed in Sri Lanka in the three-Test series. Even there, Smith clinched a century and also top-scored for Australia with 247 runs at an average of 51. 67. Speaking of England, although Ashes were snatched away from Australia in 2015, Smith, clearly under pressure like his teammates, brought his A1 game out to finish the series on the top of the runs chart. He averaged 55-plus in five Tests with whooping 508 runs. Whereas, Kohli averages just 13.40 in England.
One cannot deny that you need talent to even perform at home on a consistent basis and the way Kohli has dominated the opposition when in his backyard is just tremendous. But, to be concluded as the best batsman in the world, a batsman is required to replicate that effort everywhere across the globe. Kohli averages 53.75, overall in Tests, but that dips down to 45.13 in Tests when only overseas numbers are taken into consideration.
Meanwhile, Smith who recently scored a double ton and two centuries in the last four Ashes Tests is right on the top with an average of 63.55 but what makes him look superior in the game are his numbers away from home. Smith averages 53.94 overseas in 32 away Tests and out of his 23 Test tons, 10 have come away from home.
However, Kohli has a great opportunity in front of him to settle scores with Smith in terms of away numbers. India are set to tour South Africa next month for a full-fledged series, including four Tests. India have never won a Test series in South Africa and the last time they won a Test there was back in 2010. Similar to Smith, who has been leading his side from the front as their batsman first, Kohli must aim to do that. If the Indian skipper manages to pull it off, the debate will once again get wide open – who is the best Test batsman right now? Because right now, it is Steven Smith!