In less than six weeks, either Virat Kohli or Kane Williamson will lift their first ICC Trophy as captain. Test cricket is considered the pinnacle of all formats, and nothing gets bigger than winning the inaugural ICC World Test Championship (WTC).
The Kohli-Williamson rivalry is in its 15th year. Yes, it was not in the 2008 Under-19 World Cup where it all began. It originated in an unofficial Test match in Lincoln in January 2007.
An 18-year-old Virat Kohli’s stroke-filled 129-ball 113 placed India Under-19 in a commanding position. With New Zealand Under-19 staring at an innings defeat, a 16-year-old Kane Williamson scored a defiant 53, but that wasn’t enough on the day.
The Youth Test series ended 1-1, while the subsequent one-day series was also drawn 1-1, courtesy Virat Kohli’s 50-ball 66 in the second game.
In that match, Kohli’s knock propelled the visitors to 315. In response, Williamson scored 67 while opening the innings, but like in the Test series, his effort wasn’t enough to avert defeat for New Zealand. Nevertheless, at 16, Kane Williamson provided a glimpse of what was to come.
Trivia: While the young boys were engaged in a duel, a few miles away from Kohli and Williamson, Stephen Fleming’s New Zealand were hammering Australia at home in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. Meanwhile, the Rahul Dravid-led Team India had returned from a disappointing South Africa tour and were preparing for the World Cup in the West Indies.
A year later, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson found themselves leading their respective nations in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2008 in Kuala Lumpur. India beat New Zealand in the semi-final and went on to win the trophy.
Trivia: Virat Kohli dismissed Kane Williamson for 37 in the U-19 WC semi-final. Later, the Indian captain was out for 43, with Williamson plucking a brilliant catch at cover.
In the next decade, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson grew in stature as they emerged as two of the finest batters in the game. They have contrasting personas and have had many memorable on-field duels over the years but continue to share great camaraderie off it.
Eleven years after that meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the two captains led their respective senior teams in yet another World Cup semi-final. But this time, it was Kane Williamson’s moment to rejoice. His 67 eclipsed Virat Kohli’s paltry effort of one, which proved to be the difference in the big game.
India’s fabulous run in the tournament ended in the semi-finals, while New Zealand went on to endure super over heartbreak against England in the final.
Nevertheless, Williamson returned home with a World Cup Player of the Tournament Trophy. Interestingly, Kohli was the Player of the Tournament in the 2014 and 2016 editions of the T20 World Cup, despite his team not winning either tournament.
Two years later, one of Virat Kohli or Kane Williamson is guaranteed to win an ICC trophy when their respective teams lock horns in the WTC final.
Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson – Test cricket
Debut: vs West Indies in Kingston in June 2011.
ICC Test Batting Ranking: 5.
Debut: vs India at Ahmedabad in November 2010
ICC Test Batting Ranking: 1
For two men who have been the backbone of their national teams' batting for the better part of the decade, the duo share eerily similar numbers in the longest format of the game.
Virat Kohli doesn’t average below 35 in any country where he has played two or more Tests. Kohli, who is technically solid against pace and bounce, has an average hovering in the mid-50s in Australia and South Africa.
Kane Williamson hasn't been as consistent, though. His record in South Africa and Sri Lanka is dismal, as he averages in the 20s. Williamson's average in England is just above 30.
In the Kiwi captain’s defence, though, it can be said that a part of his underwhelming returns in the three countries can be attributed to New Zealand’s short tours. Two-match Test series tend to get over even before a player gets accustomed to conditions, something that has happened with Kane Williamson more often than not.
Trivia: While there's little to choose between their Test stats, Virat Kohli is miles ahead of any contemporary in white-ball cricket. Over the years, he has evolved into arguably the greatest ODI player. With 43 hundreds and a strike rate of 93.2, Kohli averages over 59 in ODIs; Williamson's decent average of 47.5 pales in contrast with that of Kohli's.
Similarly, in T20Is, Kohli enjoys a phenomenal average, touching 53, striking at over 139. Williamson averages around 32 in the format and has a strike rate over 125.
With the WTC final scheduled in Southampton, England, let’s take a glance at their numbers in the country.
Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson in England
Virat Kohli had a torrid 2014 tour of England where he struggled against the moving ball. Bowlers exploited his Achilles heel around the off-stump as the Indian batsman averaged just over 13.
He made amends in 2018, though, registering close to 600 runs in the country. Kohli has played two Tests in Southampton, scoring 171 runs at an average of 42.75.
Kane Williamson’s numbers in England aren’t indicative of his true prowess. Both his hundred and fifty came at Lord’s while he is yet to play in Southampton.
However, New Zealand will play England in two Tests before the WTC Final, and that should provide good practice for the New Zealand skipper and his team, who are eyeing a rare ICC silverware.
Williamson holds the edge over Kohli when it comes to current form. While the New Zealander's two double tons last season propelled him to the no.1 spot in the ICC Test Rankings, the Indian captain hasn’t breached the three-figure mark in the longest format of the game in the past 18 months.
Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson in India-New Zealand Tests
Virat Kohli vs Kane Williamson – Test Captaincy Record
Test Captaincy Debut: vs Australia at Adelaide in December 2014.
India’s ICC Test Ranking: 1.
Test Captaincy Debut: vs Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in July 2016.
New Zealand’s ICC Test Ranking: 2.
Both Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson have been extremely successful as Test captains. With similar success rates, it’s fitting that the two will lock horns in the WTC final.
While both India and New Zealand have been ruthless at home, the former have been better tourists and dominated the No.1 spot for a much longer duration than the Kiwis.
In fact, under Kohli’s six-and-half-year tenure as Test captain, India have dominated the no.1 ranking for a cumulative period of almost four years. They also finished in the top spot in the WTC points table.
The numbers may tilt the balance towards Virat Kohli’s India. But in terms of preparedness, Williamson’s men could have an advantage, as they play a two-Test series against a quality English side in similar conditions ahead of the WTC final.
Moreover, the English conditions aren’t very different than those in New Zealand, something the Kiwis tend to excel in. Just over a year ago, New Zealand beat India 2-0 at home.
Nevertheless, with little to choose between the two quality teams, it may once again come down to the individual brilliance of the two captains. The one who has a better outing in the Southampton Test could arguably win the most important match of his career.