Despite the drop in temperature and the dark nights drawing in earlier and earlier, there is still plenty to get excited about as a cricket fan. We have just seen the conclusion of the Women’s T20 World Cup, England’s successful tour of Sri Lanka as well as the start of New Zealand’s tour to the UAE to play Pakistan and Australia hosting India in a mouth-watering series down under; so there looks to be plenty of action to get us through to April and the start of the UK cricket season. However, if you are still looking for a conversation starter around the Christmas dinner table in a cricketing household, there is always the recurring question of who really is the best Test batsman in the world?
Everyone has their own opinion; however, the same names seem to crop up in the debate more consistently than the rest. Virat Kohli of India, Steve Smith of Australia, Kane Williamson of New Zealand and Joe Root of England are the four top ranked Test batsmen and lead the discussion for being the best batsman in the world. Each player captains their national Test side with the exception of Smith, who is serving a twelve-month ban for his role in the ball tampering scandal that rocked Cricket Australia earlier this year.
India’s captain, Virat Kohli, burst on to the scene in 2011 and seamlessly took the reins of the Indian middle order from the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli has scored twenty-four 100s in the Test arena at an average of 54.58, an impressive haul at the age of 30. His elegant firepower and flowing, languid bat-swing mean Kohli is one of the most attractive players to watch at the crease. Although his drive to win can sometimes leave his critics questioning his on-field antics which occasionally let him down and can be hard to watch. Kohli is always one to watch wherever he plays, but even more so this winter as his side look for their first ever Test series win in Australia. The top-ranked batsman thrives in Australian conditions, averaging 62 with a highest score of 169 in the 2014 Boxing Day Test.
One face Kohli and his men will not see this tour is that of Steve Smith, and the former Australian captain will remain side-lined until the end of March 2019. Despite missing eight months of action, Smith is still ranked number two in the ICC rankings. His technique, less than attractive on the eye but effective, has helped him rack up twenty-three centuries and an average of 61.38, superior to those of the others. Smith has been branded as “the best since Bradman” after achieving the second highest batting rating ever (calculated by the ICC); second only to The Don himself. However, Smith’s current ban is not the first time he has been in hot water. The New South Wales batsman was caught looking to his dressing room for advice whether to refer a decision to the third umpire, something deemed not to be in the spirit of the game. Smith apologised for his actions and did not face any punishment following the incident.
Kiwi leader, Kane Williamson may be the best player in the eyes of the purist. The success of his orthodox approach to batting is refreshing in a world caught up in switch hits and reverse sweeps. Williamson strikes me as a tremendous competitor in the spirit of the game and real gentleman. Clearly, he needs more than just the personality to be considered in the upper echelon of world-class players. Although, Williamson only has eighteen Test hundreds, he still averages more than fifty runs an innings. This winter, he will be looking to secure New Zealand’s first series win away from home against Pakistan since 1969. On Williamson’s only previous visit to the UAE, he scored a monumental 192 in the third Test to salvage a series draw.
Last but not least is the youngest of the quartet, England captain Joe Root. At the age of 27, Root has already captained his nation on twenty-three occasions; winning twelve and losing nine. Root has a character similar to that of his New Zealand counterpart, calm and collected but his style of play is more adventurous and innovative than the Kiwi’s. A blissful cover drive combined with paddles and ramps demonstrate the variety of weapons at Root’s disposal. In his career to date, he has amassed fifteen centuries at an average of 50.83 at Test level. Even though Root has fewer hundreds than the others, he is the only player to have past 250 in an innings and boasts a high score of 254. Root has already had a successful winter on both a team and personal level, scoring a crucial 124 in the second Test against Sri Lanka to set up England’s first Test series win there since 2001.
Now it is over to you. There are so many different views as to which variables should be used to measure the best of the best. The ICC base their ratings on runs scored, the quality of the opposition’s bowling attack as well as the result and the amount of runs scored in the match itself. However, I believe the term “the best” is subjective; whereas, the ICC’s calculations are based purely on coefficients and numerical values. As a result of this, it is unsurprising the heights reached by Smith based on his stats, and clearly if you base the decision on the numbers; then Smith is your number one. However, as a player who has been deemed to have brought the game into disrepute, can he seriously be considered as still the best batsman in the world? An Englishman would find it hard not to back Root’s young promise and his “baby-faced” appearance is hard to make him an unlikeable character. As a fan of the game at in its purist, Williamson has to be the best. If not for his timeless, gentlemanly demeanour so characteristic of the sport; then for his proper and textbook approach to the game. At present, the ratings show Kohli in top spot and even though he is a polarising figure in the world game, as a passionate and unbiased fan of the sport it is almost impossible not to be in agreement with this, especially when the Indian captain is at his sublime and irresistible best.