In sports, and cricket is no different, comparisons form a part of the folklore where every modern-day great is compared to his predecessors. We compare different era’s, we even tend to hold discussions and debates as to which batsmen or bowler of the current era would have been equally successful in the erstwhile era.
Often we have seen, fans, as well as former cricketers, allude that the 1990s was one the most difficult era for batting. And, not just because of the conditions but also because of the quality of fast bowlers that the 90s, which includes the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim-Waqar, Glenn McGrath, Shoaib Akhtar, Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock to name a few.
And, often we have seen fans shrug off the performances of the current era of batsmen by saying, ‘Oh! The bowlers aren’t of the same quality’, ‘I don’t think he would have fared well had they played in the 90s’ comes their declaration.
Here’s the list of top-5 current Test batsmen who would have thrived against the pacers of the 1990s:
5. Ajinkya Rahane
The very first thing that comes to mind when you slot-in Ajinkya Rahane and Test match cricket, is his overseas performance, and while the numbers may have dipped in the past season or two, the fact still remains that the Indian Test vice-captain is one of the best batsmen against top-quality fast bowling of the current era.
Some of Rahane’s best knocks have come under the direst of situations and in the most difficult of conditions to bat. Who can forget his baptism with fire on a green mamba masquerading as a Test match pitch in Lord’s back in 2014 where he racked up a match-winning hundred for his side or his assault on one of the fastest bowlers of the modern era-Mitchell Johnson- at the MCG back in 2014?
Rahane may not have got any hundred in India’s 2018 overseas cycle but the champion batsman did play some crucial innings under the most difficult of circumstances. Who can forget the 51 runs that he scored on a snake-pit masquerading as a Test match pitch in Johannesburg during India’s 2018 tour of South Africa or the nonchalant 81 that he scored in Trent Bridge against the likes of Broad and Anderson?
Rahane is one of those rare Indian batsmen who are at their best against the fast bowlers in hostile conditions as opposed to facing the spinners. And, there is no reason why he wouldn’t have succeeded against the pace attacks of the 90s.
4. Steve Smith
Steve Smith is an epitome of what one can do when he or she has a resolute mindset, an unrelenting desire to grit it out and of-course the never-ending penchant for runs. Smith’s technique is the exact opposite of what the coaches would tell an upcoming young kid. Smith defies those textbooks; every time he leaves a ball outside the off-stump by shuffling towards the off-side, he defies unorthodoxy. He defies that old-school technique of always staying on the on-side, that your feet should be parallel, that your bat should always come from the 1st slip region.
Smith, who averages close to 63 in Test cricket is the most accomplished batsman in the longest format of the game. And, every time you see him performing baptism with fire, you can’t help but wonder how he would have fared against the likes of Wasim Akram, Curtly Ambrose, Waqar Younis and all those great bowlers of the 1990s?
Smith’s greatest strength- apart from his iron-willed mindset- is his supreme mastery at hand-eye coordination. When he moves back and across, he does it at the same time, and he almost always ensures that his head stays dead still.
Courtsey this, Smith has racked up runs against the best fast bowlers of his times and across all conditions; the way he came back and scored 774 runs against the Dukes in seaming conditions to champion Australia’s first successful Ashes defence since 2001, and especially the way in which he countered Jofra Archer after having been hit on the head, remains a testimony to it.
Smith has been equally good against the reverse-swing in the sub-continent; something which was one of the key skills required to be successful in the 90s. Smith is a champion, and while the 1990s and its barrage of fast bowlers may have posed a different kind of challenge to him, there is no doubt that a champion like him would have found a way to succeed there as well.
3. Ben Stokes
The 2013-14 Ashes turned out to be a nightmare- best forgotten- for an English fan. Their famed batting unit was ripped into tatters by the hostility of Mitchell Johnson, but amidst all the ruins, the one opposite that they got was the emergence of Benjamin Stokes.
Stokes announced his arrival to the international scene with a brilliant fourth innings hundred on a fiery WACA pitch. Since then, the southpaw to proceeded to become the bedrock of the Test side
One of the biggest quality of Stokes is he has all gears to his batting die can dug out a hostile spell of fast bowling; he can play a waiting game when the opposition bowlers are on top, while at the same time he has the ability to tee into them, after having weathered the storm- a skill that he showed so brilliantly during the Headingley Test against Australia.
Stokes can possibly play at every gear according to the situation of the game, something that would have kept him in good stead even in the 1990s.
2. Kane Williamson
One of the best Test batsman of the modern era and apart of a elite group of batting club known as the Fab-4, Kane Williamson has thwarted the best of fast bowling attacks around the world courtesy his patience and of-course pristine technique and he is another player who would have been successful irrespective of whichever era he’d have played.
He may not be in the best of forms currently, but when on the song, the right-handed batsman can blunt the best of fast bowlers with precision. Kane’s biggest strength is how late and close to the body, he plays the ball, a key facet required to be successful against top-quality pace bowling, something that would he would have kept in good stead against the likes of Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose and company.
1. Virat Kohli
Every time Virat Kohli scores Test hundred in difficult conditions, every time he scripts a new record for himself with the bat, one of the first questions that the detractor asks, ‘Would have been as successful in the 1990s against the likes of McGrath, Akram, Donald, Ambrose, as he is in today’s era?
People often shrugged off his achievements by saying, ‘Oh! The standard of bowling isn’t that good these days, Sachin faced better bowlers than him’. But, little that they forget that Virat is among that rare breed of batsmen who thrives in adversity, who want to get challenged against the best. And, his struggles followed by his redemption in England bore the greatest example to it.
Back in 2014, Virat’s technique against the swinging and his weakness outside the off-stump was exposed to the hilt by the English bowlers, especially James Anderson. So, what did Kohli do? Four years later, he returned with redemption. He made that subtle adjustment of standing just a few inches ahead of his crease in order to counter the late movement. As a result, Kohli was involved in poetic violence of the highest order against the Dukes and ensured he did not get out to Anderson on a single occasion throughout the series.
Kohli thrives in adversity and facing the fast bowling attack of the 1990s is the adversity of the highest order, something he would have really relished.
Honorable mentions- Chesteshwar Pujara, Joe Root
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