Centurion: India captain Virat Kohli wears his heart on his sleeves. In fact, it is his aggression mixed with his quality to score runs at will that makes him a favourite even with the otherwise ruthless Australians. But one man who seems to be giving Kohli a run for his money and dominating headlines these days is Australia skipper Steve Smith. With his power-packed display in the just concluded Ashes, people have already started calling him the second best Australian batsman ever after Sir Donald Bradman.
Steve Smith’s last five Test scores read 141*, 40, 6, 239, 76, 102* and 83. For Kohli, the stats read 42, 0, 104*, 213, 243, 50, 5 and 28. Yes, Kohli might have scored most of these runs against a slightly weaker opposition in Sri Lanka, but that takes nothing away from the fact that he has proved himself against every opposition in world cricket. And the debate on who among Kohli, Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson is the best batsman in the world at present gets more interesting.
While most former cricketers refuse to get engulfed in the debate, former Australia and South Africa star Kepler Wessels has a nice explanation to the never-ending question. Speaking to CricketNext, Wessels said that while Kohli is definitely a showman, Smith is a work of art in the way he scores run. He feels that Root and Williamson are both technically very sound.
“I think Kohli is terrific and I like the aggressive brand of cricket he plays. I like the way he can turn a match and the impact he has across all three formats. He is definitely one of the best batsmen at the moment. I like his personality and his aggression and the way he takes the game to the opposition. I think his leadership skills have been pretty good so far and it runs on the rest of the players.
“Look it’s always difficult to compare players because they play under different conditions, in different circumstances and also for different teams. They all have been superb in modern day cricket. But Kohli is more adventurous probably than the other three. Smith is just phenomenal in the way he puts runs together at the crease, Root is very correct (in his approach) as is Williamson,” he said.
This aggressive approach of Kohli saw him chase a ball on the fourth stump and edge it behind off Morne Morkel in the first innings of the first Test. But Wessels is not too perturbed and feels that a batsman of his calibre will soon find a way to tackle this issue.
“Well the South Africans will definitely target him in that fourth stumps channel outside off stump and get that ball to bounce. They feel they have got a chance there to get him out early in the innings. You know he is a good player and he will find his way out to counter that,” he said.
The Indians were found wanting even in the second innings as they failed to chase down 208 and Wessels feels that batting for longer periods of time will hold the key in these conditions.
“They really got to apply themselves in these conditions and you got to be prepared to be patient to bat for long periods. So that is the basic difference of batting on the sub-continent and here in these conditions,” he revealed.
Talking of application, Ajinkya Rahane is definitely one of India’s best batsmen on foreign shores and Wessels says that he was pretty surprised to see him miss out in the first Test.
“I rate him (Rahane) highly as a Test player and he has got a good away record. He is technically very sound. So, I was surprised to see him miss out on the Test match at the start of the series,” he said.
While the debate over Ajinkya Rahane missing out in the first Test shall continue for some time to come, Wessels is really impressed with the way Indian cricket has moved forward and holds a dominant position on the cricket ground.
“I think Indian cricket has come a long way. I think the Indian Premier League (IPL) has made a huge difference to Indian cricket. I think the Indian players are better equipped to play on foreign conditions now than they used to. But even in those days (Wessels’ time) they had a superb team with the likes of Kapil Dev in the early 80’s and later guys like Sachin Tendulkar took over. India always been a powerhouse, but these days they dominate more,” he smiles.
Talking of domination, Wessels cannot wait to see the Proteas finally get rid of the ‘chockers’ tag and lift the World Cup.
“I think the high for South African cricket has been to go on top in the Test arena, but not winning a World Cup till date is sad. That’s been a huge disappointment although there have been some good performances in the showpiece event,” he said.
Talking of Cricket South Africa and the growth of cricket in the country, Wessels feels that two cricketers who have been an inspiration to the youngsters is Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn.
“Jacques Kallis is at the top of the list. Dale Steyn is another one who will be in the top three cricketers to have played for the country. Those two for me are the ones I would like to single out and they have been absolutely fantastic,” he said.
Wessels doesn’t mention AB de Villiers in that list. Asked if he was disappointed that AB de Villiers took such a long sabbatical from Test cricket, Wessels nods in disapproval. “Not really…As a South African, I would have liked AB to play, but he’d reached a point where he needed a break. The 2015 World Cup campaign, where AB was the captain, took its toll. He has a young family also,” he signed off.