Opinion: Why Steve Smith is a greater match-winner than Virat Kohli
As per the latest ICC Test rankings, Steve Smith has extended his lead over Virat Kohli by 34 points and tops the official ratings. While Smith now has 937 points, on the back of a sensational Ashes, Kohli is on 903, after a successful tour of West Indies.
The debate over who is greater between Smith and Kohli among modern batsmen has been doing the rounds for a few years now, with a gap arising only because of Smith’s ban. While Smith averages an astonishing 64.81 in Tests and 41.41 in ODIs, the Indian captain’s record stands at 53.1 and 60.31 respectively.
Numbers-wise, there is nothing really to choose between the two legends. Yet, one feels that when it comes to match-winning ability, Smith should be preferred over Kohli for he has outshone the latter on big occasions, an aspect where Kohli has clearly failed.
World Cup 2015
Smith and Kohli came face-to-face in the 2015 World Cup semi-final at Sydney. It was the grandest of all stage for both to perform. While Smith sizzled with a brilliant 105 from 93 balls, Kohli was abysmal, struggling to 1 from 13. He fell to Mitchell Johnson trying to pull one but was nowhere in control as the ball looped up. It was a massive opportunity lost for Kohli. It set the tone of sorts for Kohli when it came to big matches.
Smith’s Ashes redemption
Steve Smith came into the Ashes under immense pressure, his first Test series since the ball-tampering ban. The boos did not stop, but Smith responded in the best way possible. He set up the Ashes perfectly for Australia with a century in each innings at Birmingham. At Lord’s, despite being felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer, he smashed 92.
The former captain only got better on returning from concussion break in the Manchester Test. His 211 in the first innings of the fourth Test was as impeccable an innings as one could play. And the 82 in the second innings, his lowest score in Ashes 2019, came after the Aussies were down in the dumps at 44 for 4. Even in the final Test at The Oval, with the Ashes in the bag, he made a sublime 80 even as the rest struggled.
Kohli’s horror knockout record
While Smith has risen to the occasion almost every time the team has called upon him, especially in the Test format, Kohli has more often than not failed in the ICC knockouts, despite having a legendary record in ODIs otherwise.
Apart from his 1 in the 2015 World Cup semi-final, he fell for a single-digit score in the 2017 Champions Trophy final despite being dropped. And in the recent, World Cup 2019 semi-final, he again fell for 1, a clear indication that he gets jittery on the big day. In fact, he has a dismal overall record in ICC knockout games.
While Kohli has 43 hundreds in ODIs and most of them have come in tense chases, he will need to improve his ICC knockout record significantly if he wants to be looked back at as an undisputed great. Kohli has only 73 runs in six World Cup knockout matches at an average of 12.16 and a strike rate of 56.15.
Contrast this with the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist, all of whom have blazed hundreds in World Cup knockout matches. While Kohli deserves plaudits for his amazing exploits, one should sit back and reflect before placing him on a pedestal.
The Smith vs Kohli comparison is a clear indicator that it is not only how many you score but also when you score them that matters. This aspect should also be specifically factored in when greatness of a player is defined.
Also see - Live cricket score