Who is the greatest of them all? Can we truly know with certainty?
Well, nothing is certain in life. But we can be almost sure. And going by recent results and statistics, Australia run-machine Steve Smith can be safely called the greatest Test batsman of the current era.
All debates around the best batsmen of these times revolve around the awesome foursome (cheesy, I know) –Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.
If we restrict ourselves to Test cricket – the most challenging and ultimately fair format – all four have about the same amount of runs under their belt; Root has 6,803 runs, Kohli 6,613, Smith 6,485, and Williamson 6,139.
The difference is the average of the batsmen and also the conversion rate.
Smith has by far the best average among the four – 62.96. In fact, that average is the second best in the history of the game –only behind the great Don Bradman. Kohli and Kane average 53 and some change while Root’s average has fallen a shade under 49.
Admittedly, Smith has remained not out the most number of times – 16 – but both Kane and Root have been unbeaten on 12 occasions so that is not the only reason for a nearly 10-run gap in average, which is a gulf in cricketing terms.
When it comes to conversion rate, Smith is good once again – 25 tons and 24 fifties. But Kohli is better at 25 centuries and 20 half-centuries. Root is down at 16 tons and 42 fifties.
Also, only two out of Smith’s 25 tons have ended in a losing cause. Seven of Virat’s 25 centuries have ended in defeat. Kane has hit 20 tons with two of them ending up in a losing cause, while Root has yet to taste defeat when he has scored a century.
The most definitive stat when comparing the four is the home and away numbers in Test. Smith averages more than 77 at home and almost 57 outside Australia. No one comes even close to his away Test average with Kohli nearing 47, Williamson the same and Root under 43.
Shuffling all those stats, the picture that emerges puts Smith head and shoulders above his contemporaries in Test batting. Not only does he have the second highest average in the history of the game, his average away from batsmen friendly Australia is brilliant. He has more centuries than fifties and has remained unbeaten more times than others.
Sure, when we talk about overall batting, Kohli emerges as the top all-format, all-condition batsman because his ODI record is one of the best the world has seen. Also, the India’s skipper’s nearly 600-run effort in the bowler-dominated 2018 Test series in England is unlikely to be bettered; remember a big portion Smith’s twin 140s came on flat conditions in Edgbaston with no James Anderson in the attack.
We are lucky to be living in a time where four truly remarkable batsman are playing the game. And Smith averages at least 10 more than three of them.
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