For a long time, the quartet of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman were known to be the Fab Four in cricket. After they hanged up their boots, Indian cricket did move on. But now in this modern era of world cricket, yet another Fab Four has emerged – this time not from a single part of the world – they are a talented bunch of individuals having immense self belief, viz., Steve Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. Currently they all are the batting mainstays of their sides, and the leaders of their sides, too (Joe Root only in tests). Here is how their numbers stack up.
Steven Peter Devereux Smith has churned runs, irrespective of the conditions that he’s played in, scoring big almost every single time he bats in tests, and his batting average of over 60 reflects just that. In the 20 innings he has batted against India, he averages a whopping 84.06 with the bat, easily his best against a top test playing side. He has been on a run-scoring spree so much, that his lowest average away from home is 41.17 in Sri Lanka, which is around what most of the cricketers end up with in their entire test careers! What numbers don’t clearly suggest, is the fact that he started off as a leg-spinner, before eventually cementing his spot as a one-drop batsman for the Aussies across formats. His ODI records aren’t too staggering in comparison with test, but an average in the 40s at a strike rate of 88 doesn’t make for too bad a reading. That he has been the chief tormentor for India even in ODIs, is proved by his average of 66.71 at a strike rate of 106.62 against the Indians. Stats may show T20s to be his Achilles heels, but it can’t be inferred so, as he hasn’t played too many T20 internationals.
Joseph Edward Root has been a prolific run-scorer for England in all formats. His 50+ average in tests is testimony of England’s rise in the format since his debut. His ability to adapt to any situation in tests is brought to the fore by the fact that he averages over 40 in all batting positions ranging from opening the innings to coming in at no.6. He has had a wonderful start to his captaincy stint, scoring 190 with the bat before leading England to victory in his first test as skipper. Even in ODIs, he averages over 41 in all positions he has batted in. His average of 54.80 away from home in ODIs is the best among those who have played over 25 matches in the current lot. An average of 49 in ODIs and 40 in T20s shows his ability to switch the style of play and his strike rates show he gets those at a reasonably quick rate.
Virat Kohli seems to be the current run machine in world cricket, a la Sachin Tendulkar, purely in terms of his run-scoring aura in ODIs. He averages over 50 in limited overs cricket and 49.41 in tests. His fighting spirit came to the fore in the 2014-15 tour of Australia, where he played a couple of whirlwind knocks when India fell agonisingly short of victory in the Adelaide Test. In ODIs, how much ever clichéd it may sound, he has run-chases for dinner! His average of 66.26 in run-chases is the best among those who have played atleast 50 matches, which jumps up to almost 98 in successful chases. He is the only one in international cricket currently to average over 50 with the bat in T20Is (53). He seems to be a complete batsman as far as technique and shot selection for various formats goes. Some of the shots that he plays are just breathtaking to say the least. The passion with which he plays the game reflects even in his leadership.
The shrewd and classy Kane Stuart Williamson is the pillar of the Kiwi batting. Captaincy at a fairly young age hasn’t burdened him and he has shown the same by scoring heaps of runs. His average of over 50 in tests and in the 40s in ODIs and 36.29 in T20s shows his hunger for runs across formats. He has the best batting average (66.90) in the fourth innings of a test match among current players who have played 15 or more tests. In August 2016, he became the fastest and the youngest to score test centuries against all the test playing nations. His average in ODIs away from home (50.42) is better than that at home (43.44), which proves that he relishes challenges and revels in them. He is a handy off-spinner, too – around 38% of his test wickets and about 48% of his ODI victims are the middle order batsmen – though he doesn’t bring himself in to bowl as often as he could have.
The common ground for comparison of the four of them lies in their batting, as Root is fairly new to captaincy. Tests provide a more even ground as all of them have played more or less the same number of matches at this stage in their careers. The lengthy test season for India meant that Kohli had a chance to catch up, and he did, bringing up his average to close to fifty, in the process hitting four double hundreds in the season. The season saw Smith, Root and Williamson tour India for tests; Smith as usual was prolific, and Root was among the runs too, but Williamson was quiet by his standards.
Smith, Root and Williamson don’t seem to have a particularly nagging batting weakness in the spotlight, as much as Virat’s weakness against the swinging ball outside the off stump, as found during India’s tour to England in 2014. This point would be talked about till the time India tour England and Kohli sets the records straight. Numbers do tell a story, and most of them point to Smith being more dominant in tests over his other three contemporaries.
However, when it comes to the ODIs, Kohli is the more experienced and the most established among the Fab Four. He already has more number of ODI hundreds than the combined tally of the other three! He, at present, leads the ODI and T20I rankings for batsmen, while Smith is the numero uno in test rankings. Root and Williamson are ranked second and third respectively in tests, and at fourth and sixth respectively in ODIs. Williamson is ranked third while Root is sixth in T20I rankings. Smith isn’t in the top 10 rankings in limited overs cricket. Having said all of the above, rankings don’t always reflect the greatness of a player.
Almost all comparisons make us choose one among them as the winner or the best of the lot. Here, though, I would like to reserve my judgement and leave it open for you to come up with your views and reasons as to who you think is the best. Come on, let your views pour in like the rains in Mumbai!!!