Not many would have expected Steve Smith to grow as a household name when he was selected nearly a decade ago as a leg-spinner who could bat a bit. Since the time he made his debut, Smith possessed the talent and the temperament to excel in the longest version of the game.
It was only three years after his debut in the year 2013 that Steve Smith began marking his territory in Test cricket with performing well in India and later in the Ashes in England. By the time he was named the captain of Australia five years after his debut, he was the number one Test batsman in the world.
Regarded as the modern-day Don Bradman, the 30-year old currently averages 63.75 – the highest among all the active Test cricketers today. His dream run suffered a massive blow in 2018 when Cricket Australia slapped him with a ban for a year along with being stripped of captaincy duties for getting involved in the tampering with the red cherry.
A year-long hiatus from the sport hardly changed things as the right-hander resumed routine business in the Ashes 2019 upon his return. Steven Smith almost single-handedly laid the foundation for the tourists to retain the Ashes in England. It took merely two innings for the Aussie to regain his number one Test ranking from Virat Kohli. Smith’s unorthodox batting stance, fast hands, and proficiency in moving his feet have made life challenging for all the bowlers.
Over the years around his team’s floundering batting performances, the right-hander has stood miles ahead of his peers and at times even better than the opposing batsmen.
We take a look at five batsmen who can dislodge Steve Smith from the number one Test ranking:
It was at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2018 that the cricketing world saw Mayank Agarwal for the first time in Tests. India were in dire need of an opening batsman in their Test leg of Australia since the duo of Murali Vijay and KL Rahul were continuously failing to put runs on the board. Mayank’s imperious form in the domestic circuit was becoming hard to ignore, and the selectors decided to draft him in the playing eleven.
Facing up to the Australian bowling attack which he claimed to be bowling very quick, the 28-year old stood unshakable at the crease. Before falling to a short ball off Pat Cummins for a solid knock of 76, the right-hander had accomplished more than expected on his first outing down under. He mustered a fighting 42 in the second innings of the same game and a half-century in the last Test to end India’s opening woes.
In nine Tests thus far, Mayank Agarwal has racked up 872 runs at a stunning average of 67.07. In a brief career, the 28-year old has two double-hundreds, one hundred and two fifties to his name. Currently sitting at number 10, Mayank has a firm technique to thrive even in the upcoming overseas tours and may soon climb to the top of the rankings.
Since the last couple of years, the openers have struggled quite a bit in the Test arena. However, Tom Latham is one opening batsman who stands ahead than the most. The 27-year old is one of the three openers along with Dimuth Karunaratne and Aiden Markram to score 500 Test runs since the start of 2018.
Since the start of 2018, Latham has amassed 1165 runs at an astounding average of 64.72 with a high score of 264*. Having made his debut in the year in the year 2014, the left-hander has been pretty consistent, averaging over 30 every year.
Tom Latham has mustered 507 runs in the six Test matches in the current year at an average of more than 70. At the moment, he sits at number eight in the ICC Test rankings for the batsman. If Latham can continue his rich vein of form in the Tests against Australia and India, he can close in on the Aussie.
Among the fab four, the Blackcaps skipper is the one who features in comparatively fewer games than the other three. Kane Williamson is also one of the most underrated cricketers who has grown in leaps and bounds and went on to become the pillar of the national side since his debut in 2010.
Averaging 58 in red-ball cricket this year with 353 runs in six Tests, Williamson is presently ranked third in the ICC Test rankings for the batsmen. When at the crease, the 29-year old radiates calmness with his batting stance and his sumptuous cover drives. He is an expert in playing both pace and spin along with being swift between the wickets.
The New Zealand captain highly enjoys challenging conditions and is known to thrive in it. Before India tour New Zealand next year, the Kiwis will square off against Australia down under for the Trans-Tasman Trophy in December. Hence, Williamson is highly capable of claiming the top spot by flourishing against quality bowling attacks.
If there exists a quintessential Test cricketer in this era, Cheteshwar Pujara’s name would be on the top of the list. Ever since his debut in the year 2010, Pujara has become the most dependable batsman in the number three position and became a worthy successor to Rahul Dravid for his side.
The Saurashtra batsman is lined up at fourth in the ICC Test rankings. The 31-year old showcased his strength of character in India’s last tour of Australia by accumulating 523 runs in five Tests with three centuries at an average of just under 74. Pujara’s contribution at number three played a massive part in scripting India’s first Test series win down under. He kept on batting relentlessly to bring down the Australian pace attack into submission.
He has averages 46 this year in Tests which is modest by the standards of his potential. However, with India’s future overseas assignments, the right-handed batsman could skyrocket to the top of the table through another spectacular run with the bat. The number one Test team would indeed need him to make his bat talk.
Not many thought Virat Kohli would go on to reign supreme in the longest version of the game after his horror in England in 2014 where he averaged 13.40 in five Tests. However, since then, the 31-year old has marched towards greatness and is presently amongst the top batsman even in Test cricket.
The Indian captain sat at the top of the Test rankings for a year until Steve Smith toppled him in two innings. However, presently, it is a cut-throat competition between the two with Kohli in touching distance from leapfrogging Smith. Aided mainly by his prolific home season, the Delhi batsman averages 68 in eight Test matches this year.
Kohli’s attitude towards red-ball cricket and his capacity to learn quickly from his mistakes has played an enormous part in the resurrection of his Test career. The two-Test tour of New Zealand in 2020 comes as a significant challenge to his team. However, Kohli sees challenges as opportunities and would need only one big knock to go past Steve Smith.
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