CHENNAI: Virat Kohli and Steve Smith are almost two parallel trains, smashing whatever comes their way in the longer format, in a way only they can. With the exception of the Indian in England, they have done well in all conditions. Reputation of bowlers doesn’t matter when they are in the groove, and there exists a significant rivalry between the two. During Australia’s Test tour of India earlier this year, it snowballed into a big one, even off the field. It’s to be seen how it goes when the captains resume the rivalry on September 17.
From the time Smith reformed into a specialist batsman, he has amassed 5,111 Test runs, which makes him second in the period since June 2013, just 119 behind Joe Root. Kohli is sixth with 3,767. The year ahead will tell a more complete story, but at the moment, they are the premier Test batsmen, with Kane Richardson.
But this is where the comparison ends. In ODIs, there is a huge gap between Kohli and Smith. The reasons are plenty. For starters, at 28, Kohli is already an ODI great, second in the list of hundreds with 30. It’s perhaps a matter of time before he overtakes Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 centuries. Despite being batting-heavy, the team has relied heavily on Kohli. When it comes to chasing, it’s hard to look beyond the captain. Kohli makes it look as easy as chewing gum and spitting it out. Routine affair!
But where is Smith? The Test cricketer who has amassed 20 centuries, finds himself nowhere near the top in ODIs. In the same four-year period, Kohli has made 4,701 runs in 103 matches as against Smith’s tally of 2,815 in 66. It will be unfair to compare because unlike Kohli, Smith doesn’t get to play many meaningless contests, and is preserved for Test glory. That’s how the Aussies operate, red-ball cricket ahead of pajamas. But even then, Kohli’s never-ending zeal to gun down totals, under pressure or not, has few parallels.
The last time Australia played a limited-over series in India, in 2013, Smith was not even part of the team — told to concentrate on the Ashes — while Kohli was taking a masterclass on how to chase 350-plus totals with ease. On Sunday, Smith was asked about the contrasting graph of their ODI careers. “I’m not too concerned by the difference with Kohli. He is a good ODI player with a phenomenal record. He is going to be dangerous throughout this series as well and if we can keep him quiet, we can walk away having a good one,” Smith said.
Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who worked alongside captain Smith as assistant coach of Rising Pune Supergiant this year, offers this. “Smith’s numbers might not be as great as Kohli’s, but we also need to keep in mind that Kohli is well ahead of the rest. Shot for shot, nothing separates them, as they both rely on conventional shots. But the ability to absorb pressure and the desire to take the team home seems to burn more prominently in Kohli. This is what makes Kohli almost unstoppable in ODIs,” he said.