Ricky Ponting has crowned Virat Kohli the best current player in the world, but offered his judgement with one major caveat – banned Australian Steve Smith still trumps the Indian skipper.
Cricket fans will be denied the prospect of watching the two batting stars go head to head this summer when India tours Australia for four Tests, due to Smith’s suspension for his part in the Cape Town ball-tampering incident.
His 12 months out of the game could leave the door ajar for Kohli to pass him on the official International Cricket Council Test batting rankings, which still have the Australian in top spot ahead of second-placed Kohli.
But Ponting believes Smith’s golden Ashes summer, which yielded 687 runs and three tons at the jaw-dropping average of 137.40, separated him from the pack, meaning Kohli is only the best by default.
Asked at Channel Seven’s cricket season launch who is the number one batter in the world, Ponting said: “Right now, he (Kohli) is because Steve Smith is not there.
“(But) if Steve Smith was playing now, I’d have him as the number one player in the world.
“That’s how high in regard I hold Steve Smith – what he’s done the last three or four years with his game and (he’s been) able to lead an Australian team to so many wins the way he has (batted).
“The Ashes summer last year was just some of the best and purest batting as you’re ever going to see. To do it on the big stage in an Ashes series, and to do it on the first day of an Ashes series when it counts the most, says a lot about him.”
Separated by only six months in age, Smith shades Kohli by most statistical Test markers.
In two less Tests than Kohli, Smith has made 23 Test tons and averages 61.37, while the Indian skipper has 21 hundreds and a batting average of 53.40.
Each player has a strong Test batting record abroad to back up their phenomenal home numbers; Kohli averages a very respectable 45.39 outside India, though Smith also trumps him here with a mark of 50.96 abroad.
But when it comes to white-ball cricket, Kohli leaves Smith (and almost every batsman in history) in the dust.
In 208 one-day internationals (100 more games than Smith has played), Kohli has 35 centuries to Smith’s eight, and averages 58.10 to Smith’s 41.84. That gap is mirrored in T20 Internationals, where Kohli averages 48.88 to Smith’s 21.55.
Australian fans will be able to watch Kohli up close this summer for Tests in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, with India also to turn out for three ODIs and three T20Is.
India have never won a Test series in Australia in 11 attempts since 1947 and have won just five out of 44 Tests in total, though they have drawn three series in that time.
But the absence of Smith along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft could negate some of Australia’s home advantage, and former Test quick Damien Fleming believes India’s batsmen are as adaptable abroad as they’ve ever been.
“If you look at their record in Australia since 2003-04, apart from one series where they got flogged (in 2011-12, a 0-4 whitewash), they’ve been very competitive,” Fleming told cricket.com.au, who will join Ponting in the Seven commentary box this summer.
“They’re more resilient overseas now than they were before. If you look at someone like Ajinkya Rahane, he almost looks a better batsman outside of India.
“He can get hundreds on seamers in England and he can get runs out here with bounce – they’re developing all-round players.
“Obviously Kohli is a superstar too.”