Two years ago today, Steve Smith arrived in international cricket.
Day two of the fifth Ashes Test of 2013 at The Oval, and Steve Smith – fighting to justify his position in the Australian team amid much uncertainty about his future – sits and watches the rain fall. He is not out on 66.
When play resumes after lunch, Smith picks up where he left off. And when Jonathan Trott floated a ball up on a nice length, Smith lofts it high and straight into the crowd for his maiden Test century in his 23rd Test innings.
ince then, he’s been in outrageous form, averaging 72.79 in Test cricket, adding another 10 centuries and 10 half-centuries, capped by a double-hundred at Lord’s earlier this tour.
Smith, along with Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root are four outstanding batsmen who seem destined to dominate cricket’s international landscape for much of the next decade.
It’s a tick over seven years since India’s star made his one-day debut and Kohli, at 26 years and 290 days old, is the eldest of the four. Smith, who celebrated his 26th birthday in early June made his Test debut first – as a legspinner against Pakistan at the neutral venue of Lord’s in July 2010.
While both are midway through Test matches – Smith the fifth Ashes Test against England at The Oval; Kohli the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo – their careers have hit an interesting juncture.
Each has batted 63 Test match innings. Each has scored 11 centuries. They took over the captaincy in the same series, last summer in Australia, and each is the rock around which their team’s innings are constructed.
But who would you rather have on your team?
In his 33rd Test, Smith has scored 3,095 runs at an average of 56.27. Kohli, in his 36th, has scored 2,745 at an average of 46.52.
Smith’s highest Test score is the 215 he plundered earlier this current series at Lord’s; Kohli’s is the 169 he made last summer in Melbourne. Both came in foreign conditions.
Of Smith’s 11 centuries, six have come on home turf, three in England and one apiece in South Africa and the Caribbean.
Of Kohli’s 11 hundreds, just three have come on Indian soil. He has found Australian soil most to his liking thus far, scoring five centuries there. Four came last summer, kicked off by brilliant twin tons in Adelaide, while he has also reached triple figures in New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
In England, where the swinging Dukes ball is perhaps the most foreign condition either batsmen could encounter, Smith holds a clear advantage. The Australian has scored 953 runs at 43.31 from 23 innings. Kohli has played less – one Test series last winter – but struggled badly throughout, scoring just 134 runs in 10 innings for a 13.4 average.
Williamson, too, has found the English conditions less to his liking than his home turf – he has also played just one series in England, earlier this year, scoring 247 runs at 30.87 in the two Tests. In his 41 Tests since his 2010 debut, he has scored 3199 runs at 45.7.
Root, born and bred on the green pitches of Yorkshire and seaming, swinging Dukes balls, averages 62.21 at home, and is just nine runs short of 2000 in Test match cricket after 37 innings.
While Kohli has always been a premier batsman, Smith’s route into the Australian Test team has trodden two separate paths.
As mentioned, his debut was earned through his leg-spin bowling. Australia’s captain-elect has since admitted the Baggy Green came too early for him, and it was not until a period away from the game to focus exclusively on his batting that he returned.
After 14 months away from the Test team, Smith returned in March 2013 on the tour of India, scoring 92 in his first innings back.
Before his period away, he scored 259 runs at 28.77 in 10 innings. Since his return he has scored 2836 runs at 61.65.
But it wasn’t until that breakthrough century in the 2013 Ashes’ fifth Test that he really came of age.
It is early days for both men in their captaincy – Smith does not officially take over the top job until after the current Test – but both have outstanding averages when leading their team.
In three Tests in the midst of that purple patch last summer, Smith average a Bradmanesque 92.50. Kohli, now into his fifth Test as skipper and still chasing his first victory, is averaging 80.87.