Virat Kohli. Steve Smith. Numerous reasons to dislike them. Even more reasons to adore them. One is a dashing, aggressive yet charismatic character. The other is a quirky, unorthodox yet charming persona. What originally started off as the ‘Fab Four’ of Test cricket – including Joe Root and Kane Williamson, too – has boiled down to two incredibly consistent players, matching each other blow for blow in this challenge for the throne.
It has long been the subject of many a debate on who is the better of the two and there seems to be no end in sight. Well, in this analysis, we shall engage in this debate and dive right into the statistics and data, pitching the two formidable batsmen against each other.
While cricket remains the gentleman’s game, no extra points are given for elegance and poise in this analysis and we will only focus on the cold, hard facts. We will not be focussing on their boundary hitting or expect run-a-ball figures because let us face it: the longest format of the game is all about patience and grit. We will instead look at their averages, dismissal types, their performances before and after captaincy as well as their performances home and away.
Without further ado, let us begin.
Average by opposition
In the first part of this analysis, we shall take a look at the favoured opposition of these two batsmen. We shall look at their averages against each of the opposition and compare them with each other.
Starting with Kohli, we can immediately see his high averages against his Asian counterparts, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, albeit having played just five innings against the former. His lowest average, a still impressive 43.26, comes against the West Indies. The strong pace bowling attack of the West Indies have got the better of Kohli more times than he would like and I dare say they have troubled him. Still, his good average against them is testament to his batting prowess.
Kohli has played the most against England and Smith’s Australia, batting in 35 and 34 innings against them respectively. His average of just under 50 against these two sides is incredible considering that until recently, India had struggled with the fast Australian wickets and the swing in England. Against England, he famously came back from a horrid series against them previously to completely dominate them on their own turf. Such is the determination and work that goes into Kohli’s batting.
Kohli has fared well against New Zealand and South Africa as well, with averages of 51.53 and 59.72 against them respectively.
Moving onto Smith, we see an interesting contrast to Kohli’s statistics. Smith’s lowest average of 29.8 comes against Bangladesh, albeit having played just four innings, and his highest is a mighty 165.7 against the West Indies in seven innings. The Australians have always been good players of pace bowling and Smith has seemingly been able to handle the pace and bounce of the mighty West Indian bowlers.
He also boasts an impressive average against Kohli’s India as well. In 20 innings, Smith has an excellent average of 84.1. Not only has he handled the pace attack, but he has also shown that he can tackle the trickery and turn of the Indian spin bowlers as well. An average of 65.1 in 48 innings against possibly Australia’s biggest rivals, Smith has performed brilliantly against the Englishmen. Even in the recently concluded Ashes, Smith showed his mettle to brave the impressive Jofra Archer and put up match-winning scores throughout the series.
Apart from this, Smith also shows impressive averages against neighbours New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa as well. The three sides have been known to have strong pace attacks and this has seemingly not fazed Smith who has shown that he is comfortable against the seamers.
Following this, we will look at how Smith and Kohli fare when batting at different positions.
Average by position
While both the batsmen have cemented their place at number four in their respective line-ups, we should also note that they have batted at other positions as well. Following is a representation of their averages at these different positions.
From the graph, Kohli’s dominance in the number four position is evident. However, looking further we see that he has also performed well in the number five and six positions. An average of 43.39 and 44.8 in those positions respectively is still a good average although they appear significantly lower on Kohli’s scale. It is somewhat surprising to see that when sent higher up at number three, Kohli has a dismal average of 19.40 in six innings. Though he is comfortable at number three in the shorter formats of the game, his average in the longer format at the same position is very low. Apart from this, he has played just one inning at seventh and scored just 11 runs.
Smith, however, has shown great versatility in terms of his batting position. The Australian has an average of over 60 in four different positions. His average of 74.02 at number four is much higher than Kohli, although he has played only slightly over half the number of innings. Moving one place up or down the order has not affected him much either, with an average of 67.07 at number three and 61.80 at number five, which although is a drop it is still impressive. In the three innings that he has batted at number seven, Smith has an average of 60.50, impressive for any number seven.
Having started off as a leg-spinner, Smith has also played at number eight and nine, with significantly lower averages of 29.33 and 12.00 respectively. He has also had a very unimpressive average of 25 at number six, having played 14 innings in that position.
Next, we will take a look at their performances before and after becoming captains.
Performance with and without the captaincy
Both these players have had the honour of captaining their respective nations and have shown impressive leadership qualities on top of their batting ability. Although Smith was quite unceremoniously stripped off his captaincy and banned for a year due to the ‘Sandpapergate’ saga, he has continued to be a leader in the dressing room upon his return. Kohli, on the other hand, has steered India in a new direction, taking on a much more aggressive approach as compared to his predecessor, the ice-cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
In this section, we will look at the statistics of both these players during their captaincy and outside of it as well.
We can see an almost instant rise in Kohli’s performances after being handed the captaincy. The Indian the thrived under the added responsibility and has definitely led from the front. His batting average has increased by about 20 since taking over as captain and Kohli has scored 20 centuries as captain, 13 more than before. It is also interesting to see that his strike rate has gone up as well, indicating that the added responsibility has not seen him adopt a more passive or defensive approach to the game.
Smith has also seen an improvement in performance after being handed the captaincy, scoring four more centuries in 11 fewer innings. His average has also increased from 56.63 before captaincy to an incredible 70.36 during captaincy. In terms of strike rate, however, Smith does not see much of a change, a mere 2.51 increase. It is impressive how he has maintained a similar strike rate and also performed better with the extra responsibility. Having played fewer innings as captain, he has already surpassed his statistics without captaincy and has shown that much like Kohli, Smith leads from the front as well.
Following this, we shall look into the pair’s performances at home and away from home as well.
Performance at home and away
While it is easier for players to play in conditions that they are familiar with, an away season is always a tricky one. In this section, we will look at the performances of Kohli and Smith in their respective countries as well as at other parts of the world as well.
As expected, Kohli shows a strong performance when playing at home. With an average of 68.42, he also plays at a brisk strike rate of 60.92 when playing in India. However, he has played 25 fewer games in India compared to abroad and interestingly has one century lesser playing at home.
With 14 centuries away from home, Kohli has shown that he is capable of adapting to foreign conditions and mastering it as well. Even though he has a lower average of 44.36, it is still an impressive average for a player in an away series and his strike rate of 54.85 is not a cause for concern either.
Smith has also performed almost equally at home and away. He has also had to play at neutral venues as well. Smith’s centuries are evenly split at home and away, with 13 apiece. His averages are simply phenomenal with an average of 71.14 at home and 60.15 away. Averaging above 60 both home and away shows his quality and consistency in the longer format and once again he shows very similar strike rates, implying that he has not looked to change his approach when playing at home or away.
We should also note that Smith has played 17 fewer innings at home than elsewhere but in spite of this, his remarkably high averages distinguish him as one of the best batsmen in the longer format.
Having discussed the pair’s performances in the previous sections, we shall in the coming sections look at their dismissals.
Types of dismissals
In this section, we will look into how Kohli and Smith usually get out. It gives us a rough idea of their playing style and also to an extent, shot selection.
We see that Kohli has been dismissed by getting caught a massive 96 times. Of these 96 dismissals, 69 have been caught by fielders and 27 have been caught by the wicket-keeper. He has also been dismissed leg-before-wicket 30 times and this is his second frequent mode of dismissal. He has hardly been bowled, having been dismissed this way only seven times, showing a good tendency to watch the ball and get bat on it most of the time. He has also been run-out just once and has been dismissed by a rare occasion of a hit-wicket once as well. Interestingly, Kohli has never been stumped either.
As for Smith, he has also shown a tendency to getting caught, being dismissed this way 65 times. 40 of those dismissals were caught by a fielder while the remaining 25 were by the wicket-keeper. Unlike Kohli, the Australian has been bowled a fair number of times, 23 to be exact, and has also been given leg-before-wicket a further 20 times. While he is an excellent player, there seems to be an increased chance of dismissing Smith by bowling on the stumps as compared to Kohli and this must be an area of concern.
Apart from this, Smith has also been run-out thrice and been stumped four times, showing that he is intent on attacking the spinners during his innings.
Moving on from the type of dismissal, let us look at the type of bowlers that these batsmen succumb to during their innings.
Dismissals by bowler type
In this section, we will be looking at the dismissals from a bowling point of view. We will look at the type of bowlers that the two are dismissed by more often.
Right-arm-pacers have got the better of Kohli 77 times, accounting for about 57.4% of his dismissals. Right-arm-spinners follow suit with the Indian being dismissed by them 35 times in total. It is understandable, however, as right-arm bowlers make up the majority of bowlers around the world. Kohli’s record against left-arm bowlers is much better, falling to left-arm pacers 13 times and to left-arm spinners just nine times in total.
We see a similar trend of Smith as he has fallen to right-arm pacers 53 times, about 47% of his total dismissals. He has also been dismissed by right-arm spinners 25 times and as mentioned earlier, the majority of bowlers being right-handed is a factor. However, the Australian has fallen to left-arm-spinners 22 times in total, which is about 20% of his dismissals. This is certainly an interesting statistic for the opposition to note as Smith has been dismissed by left-arm-spinners almost equally as he has by right-arm-spinners. Left-arm-pacers feature the lowest on his list, having been dismissed by them only 12 times.
The final section of this analysis will look at the bowlers that have dismissed Kohli and Smith the highest number of times.
Dismissals by bowler
In this section, we will look at the bowlers that have dismissed the two batsmen most frequently. This statistic may not necessarily show a flaw in either’s batting but it would definitely be interesting to see the bowlers who have been able to get the better of such good batsmen regularly.
We can see that Kohli has been dismissed by Australia’s Nathon Lyon and South Africa’s Morne Morkel the most. The clever spinner has outsmarted Kohli on seven occasions as has the tall South African pacer. Following this is the English pace bowling pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad with five dismissals apiece.
Another Englishman in Adil Rashid follows them along with the Australians in Pat Cummins and Peter Siddle with four wickets. As we saw earlier, right-arm-pacers are leading the list in terms of dismissals and other renowned left-arm-pacers like New Zealand’s Trent Boult and Australia’s Mitchell Starc feature much lower in the list.
We see similar names on Smith’s list as well, with Broad leading having claimed Smith’s wicket eight times. Pakistani leg-spinner Yasir Shah is next on the list with seven dismissals followed by Anderson with six. Sri Lankan left-arm spinner Rangana Herath also features highly having gotten Smith out five times.
This list shows the earlier statistic where Smith had succumbed to left-arm-spinners a significant amount of times as he has also fallen to Indian left-arm-spinner Ravindra Jadeja four times. New Zealand’s left-arm-pacer Neil Wagner has also claimed a fair share, having dismissed Smith five times.
As mentioned earlier, this statistic may not necessarily highlight any flaw in the pair’s batting but it does show us the bowlers that have been able to claim their wickets more consistently as compared to others. It also shows us a clearer picture of what we saw in the earlier statistic with respect to the type of bowlers that the two batsmen succumbed to.
With both Smith and Kohli aged 31, we can expect this debate to go on for years down the line. Currently, Smith leads in terms of statistics alone, having played fewer innings and yet having a higher average as well as nearly matching Kohli in terms of centuries. Take nothing away from Kohli though, who has performed at the highest level across all three formats of the game and seems almost certain to break Sachin Tendulkar’s stunning record of having 100 international centuries. The pair has undoubtedly proven to be the best in the world at the moment and besides the fact that we will see them go back and forth fighting for the number one spot, it is of no doubt that they will dominate test cricket for years to come.