It is a debate that never seems to disappear. Cricket fans are engaged in a perpetual debate over who the best batsmen in the world is, which led to the creation of the “fab four”. This elite club consists of Steve Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, who are considered to be the four best batsmen in world cricket at the moment. After Smith’s recent unbeaten Ashes hundred and Kohli’s magnificent double hundred against Sri Lanka, fans have been more divided than ever. This article looks at each member of the fab four in every format in an attempt to see who is statistically the best batsman in the world.
Before beginning any analysis over who the best Test batsman in the world is, it is necessary to acknowledge that each member of the fab four has an exceptionally good record. Each batsman is averaging over fifty and between these four they have over 20,500 runs and a total of 68 centuries. However, a superficial glance at the table of statistics indicates that Steve Smith is the best Test batsman in the world, by a considerable margin. His career average of close to 60 is sublime and is one of the highest of all time. He has a very impressive conversion rate as well, nearly having as many hundreds and fifties.
Part of the reason for Smith’s dominance is due to the fact that he has scored runs all over the world, which is what sets him apart from the other fab four batsmen. In the past two years, Smith has toured India, England and the West Indies, being prolific in each series. On the turning subcontinent pitches, Smith hit three hundreds in four Tests coming out of the series with nearly 500 runs at an average of over 70. He was no less impressive in England. A magnificent double hundred at Lord’s showed his comfort in the English conditions, as he was the leading run scorer in the entire series.
In comparison, the only other batsmen to have a similar level of consistency are Kane Williamson and Joe Root. As well as averaging above forty in England last time he toured, Williamson also managed to cope with the Indian conditions reasonably well. Although an average of just 34 does not sound impressive, he put in some admirable performances in gruelling conditions. While he has been relatively consistent, he has not been as prolific as Smith, it has to be said. Williamson’s failure to convert has been a real hindrance. His conversion rate currently stands at 68% for fifties to hundreds, second lowest in context of the fab four. With Smith’s standing at 95%, it is clear what sets apart these two batsmen.
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On the theme of conversion rates, Joe Root’s is worryingly low. With just 13 hundreds after scoring 32 fifties, Root has been prone to throwing away solid starts. Indeed, in 2017 Joe Root has been dismissed a remarkable four times between 50 and 59, showing his inability to convert. Despite this major setback, Root’s record is phenomenal all over the globe. The only place where he still needs to prove himself is in Australia, which he will no doubt be seeking to do in this current Ashes series. It is a direct battle between him and Steve Smith and after the First Test, it is clear that Smith is winning thus far.
Virat Kohli’s reputation as being a ‘flat-track bully’ is far from accurate, but his weakness overseas has been his fatal flaw. There is no better batsman to have in the subcontinent, with Kohli scoring over 1,700 runs in the subcontinent over the past year. In Kohli’s first series as captain, he lead from the front in Australia and hit three consecutive hundreds. This clearly shows that there is to more Kohli than batting on flat pitches, for not many batsmen in the world were able to tame the Australian quicks like Kohli did. However, his Achilles heel has been playing in England. A disastrous Test series in 2014 exposed a weakness outside of off-stump, but a successful Champions Trophy campaign has give fans hope that he has overcome his difficulties in England. He will be put to the Test next summer, when India tour England, and until he scores big runs on green pitches he will never be considered to be the best batsman in the world.
The easiest category to adjudicate is undoubtedly T20 cricket. Virat Kohli’s T20 record is superior to the three others in every single criterion, having the most fifties, the highest average and also the highest strike rate. It is interesting to see, though, how many more matches he has played compared to everyone else. This is a symptom of India’s busy limited overs schedule, giving him more of an opportunity to score runs. Australian captain Steve Smith last played a T20I in March of last year and so has not recently had the opportunity to prove himself in that format. Root and Williamson, however, have been playing more consistently. A comparison between the England captain and the New Zealand stalwart is significantly close, but Root no doubt edges it. Unlike in Test cricket, the pitch and conditions the matches are played in have less bearing, as they do not have too great an impact in a 20 over slog fest.
The statistics from ODI cricket tells a similar story to that of the T20s. Kohli is by far the most prolific of the fab four in this format as well, with his total of 32 hundreds likely to surpass the great Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 fifties. His average is significantly higher than the others and notably each of these batsmen featured in the Champions Trophy earlier this year, where Kohli and Root scored exactly the same number of runs. The fact that Kohli scored these runs in England is also important, showing that he is capable of scoring ODI runs all over. Williamson was not far off Root and Kohli’s run haul in the Champions Trophy, but has since had a very poor tour of India.
Steve Smith has not quite reached his potential in ODI cricket. For a player who looks so comfortable batting in Tests, Smith’s average of 43 is rather worrying. Moreover, while his conversion rate in Tests is 95%, it is a shocking 42% in ODIs. This would be the lowest of the fab four except for Williamson’s abject 28% conversion rate. It is hard to see why Smith has not adapted well to this format, but we can be sure to see him raising this average in the years to come.
The question of who the best batsman in the world is cannot be answered purely on statistics. There is no definitive way to rank players, with the ICC Test Rankings being notoriously unreliable and inaccurate. However, these statistics are crucial when comparing batsmen and should provide the foundation for any debate on the topic. When it comes to limited overs cricket, there is currently no better batsman in the world than Virat Kohli. The Indian superstar is the only fab four player to average above fifty in both formats and already has an impressive haul of ODI runs. Test cricket, though, is dominated by Steve Smith. The Australian batsman is superior in nearly all regards, with his conversion rate only second to Kohli’s. To compare them across formats is very difficult, for each format has an entirely subjective value to each individual. While some people hold Test cricket as being the most important form of the game, there is a new generation of limited overs fans emerging who would differ. As a result, the statistics cannot provide a definitive answer.
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