Having seen one of the all-time best batting efforts from close quarters, Australia head coach Justin Langer recently said it’s credit to Steve Smith that he began his career as a spinner and has now transformed into the best batsman in the world.
“Let’s face it; when he (Smith) first came in, leg-spinner, unorthodox... (everyone thought) ‘I’m not sure this kid’s going to make it’. Then he goes away (and decides) ‘I don’t want to be a leg-spinner; I want to be the best batsman in the world’.
“Then he transforms himself and he is the best batsman in the world with Virat. It’s a great credit to him,” Langer said.
That’s not just a bold claim to make: on the basis of numbers, it’s the right one too.
In red-ball cricket, Smith is peerless at the moment. With Test cricket witnessing more results and shorter matches in the last few years, Smith is staking a strong claim to not just be the best long-format batsman of this generation but one of the greatest of all time.
Returning to international cricket after serving one-year ban for the infamous ball-tampering episode in South Africa, Smith struck twin centuries – 144 in first innings and 142 in second – to help his side register a thumping 251-run win against England on Monday. The two centuries were a study in contrasts: the first one, backs-to-the-wall to take his side from 122/8 to a tremendous 284 that proved to be the turning point; while the second, an aggressive, positive innings that helped his side declare and pile the pressure on England.
Note: Swipe / scroll horizontally on the tables to view all columns
Australian tons in both innings of Ashes Test
|Warren Bardsley||136 and 130||The Oval||1909|
|Arthur Morris||122 and 124 no||Adelaide||1946/47|
|Steve Waugh||108 and 116||Manchester||1997|
|Matthew Hayden||197 and 103||Brisbane||2002/03|
|Steve Smith||144 and 142||Birmingham||2019|
Despite missing a whole year of international cricket, Smith overtook India’s Cheteshwar Pujara on Tuesday to grab the No 3 spot in the ICC rankings after his stunning show of resilience and class at Edgbaston.
Smith, playing his first Test series after returning from a one-year ban for ball-tampering, gained a rung to reach the third position in the latest list for batsmen, which continues to be led by India captain Virat Kohli.
“I said during the summer that Virat Kohli is the best player I have ever seen but that (Smith’s knocks) is just another level,” the coach said.
Kohli currently leads the ICC Test rankings, while Smith has moved up to third with his latest performance.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the numbers that show why Smith is just at a different level in Test cricket currently:
Smith has played 17 Tests fewer than Joe Root in the last five years but is only second in the leading run-scorers list.
Most runs in Tests since 01 Aug '14
|Joe Root (ENG)||62||113||5297||12|
|Steve Smith (AUS)||45||81||5124||21|
|Virat Kohli (INDIA)||50||84||4791||19|
|Alastair Cook (ENG)||54||99||4145||8|
|David Warner (AUS)||45||83||3906||13|
There is a reason Smith’s name comes up along with Sir Don Bradman’s when talking about Test stats these days, as the table below shows.
Best average in Tests since 01 Aug '14
Among the 10 leading run-getters in Test cricket in the last five years, no one faces more balls per innings than Steve Smith. Cheteshwar Pujara and Azhar Ali, two of the more conservative batsmen in modern cricket, follow Smith. But the Australia backs that up with the best frequency of scoring centuries. Smith has a phenomenal frequency of a century ever 3.9 innings in Tests in the last 5 years, followed by Kohli (4.4).
Since August 01 Aug 2014
|Player||Innings||Centuries||50-plus scores||Balls faced per innings||No of inns per 50-plus scores||No of inns per centuries|
Right, then. Let’s get down to some direct comparisons between these two modern greats. At this stage of their careers, both Smith and Kohli have scored 25 centuries which gives us a decent platform to see where the two stand in their respective journeys to reach the pinnacle of Test cricket.
Steve Smith vs Virat Kohli: A comparison
|Parameter||Virat Kohli||Steve Smith|
|Innings batted (Matches)||131 (77)||119 (65)|
|Average as captain||62.70||70.36|
|Home average / away average||64.68 / 46.77||77.25 / 56.74|
|Centuries as captain||18 out 25||15 out of 25|
|Innings taken per 50-plus score||2.91||2.42|
|Innings taken per century||5.24||4.76|
|Centuries in winning cause||11 out of 25 (44%)||17 out of 25 (68%)|
|Conversion rate of 50 to 100s||55.56%||51.02%|
In the table above, a few things stand out. Kohli’s conversion rate is superior to Smith’s: if the Indian captain gets to 50, he reaches a 100 more often than Smith. But the Aussie star scores a stunning 68% of his centuries in a match-winning cause. They both roughly score a century every five innings. And their records as captain are better than their overall career numbers: signs that both of them thrive under pressure.
Let’s see how the duo stack up against each other in various countries:
Steve Smith's Test record by country
|Matches (Innings)||Runs||Highest score||Average||100s||50s|
|in Australia||29 (50)||3090||239||77.25||13||10|
|in Bangladesh||2 (4)||119||58||29.75||0||1|
|in England||13 (35)||1239||215||51.62||5||4|
|in India||6 (12)||660||178*||60||3||1|
|in New Zealand||2 (3)||262||138||131||1||2|
|in South Africa||6 (11)||411||100||41.1||1||2|
|in Sri Lanka||3 (6)||247||119||41.16||1||1|
|in U.A.E.||2 (4)||174||97||43.5||0||2|
|in West Indies||2 (4)||283||199||141.5||1||1|
Virat Kohli's Test record by country
|Matches (Innings)||Runs||Highest score||Average||100s||50s|
|in Australia||12 (23)||1274||169||55.39||6||3|
|in Bangladesh||1 (1)||14||14||14||0||0|
|in England||10 (20)||727||149||36.35||2||3|
|in India||34 (54)||3105||243||64.68||11||10|
|in New Zealand||2 (4)||214||105*||71.33||1||1|
|in South Africa||5 (10)||558||153||55.8||2||2|
|in Sri Lanka||6 (10)||394||103*||43.77||2||1|
|in West Indies||7 (9)||327||200||36.33||1||0|
The above tables also show that the two stars have below par averages only in Bangladesh where they have played just a game or two. Kohli’s numbers in England have improved significantly after his statement tour in the summer of 2018 while Smith averages above 40 in every country he has played Test cricket except Bangladesh.
Finally, let’s take a look at how Smith shines when Australia wins more often than anyone but Kane Williamson for New Zealand since the turn of the 21st century. Pujara features at 8th in this list and Kohli is 36th.
50-plus scores in winning causes since 2000
|Player||Matches (Innings)||Average||100s||50+||Innings per 50-plus score in winning cause|
|Kane Williamson||29 (49)||75.85||12||27||1.81|
|Steve Smith||33 (57)||84.95||17||31||1.84|
|Kumar Sangakkara||54 (84)||71.69||19||39||2.15|
|AB de Villiers||57 (83)||63.43||16||38||2.18|
|Gary Kirsten||23 (35)||59.59||6||16||2.19|
|Joe Root||35 (60)||64.07||13||27||2.22|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||38 (63)||62.6||12||28||2.25|
|Mohammad Yousuf||29 (46)||65.79||8||20||2.30|
Let’s leave the final word to Langer.
“You have in different teams, different eras, great players but for someone like Smudge (Smith), who is averaging over 60 and the way he played in this innings with all the pressure and everything that is on him, it was not only great skill but enormous character, enormous courage, very brave, unbelievable concentration, unbelievable physical stamina, unbelievable mental stamina, all traits of great players,” he had said.
All those traits are present in Kohli as well but, when it comes to red-ball cricket, the Australian Wall is just a bit more sturdy at the moment.
All stats courtesy ESPNCricinfo Statsguru