Crowe prophesised that Kohli, Root Williamson and Smith would take turns as No. 1 Test batsman. © Getty Images

Crowe prophesised that Kohli, Root Williamson and Smith would take turns as No. 1 Test batsman. © Getty Images

The modern Fab Four – the late Martin Crowe presciently labelled them as such back in mid-2014 when they were yet to discover their true potential at the Test arena. England’s Joe Root, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, India’s Virat Kohli and Australia’s Steven Smith have made significant progress since.

Crowe even prophesised that the young quartet (Root is 25, Williamson is 26, Kohli and Smith are 27) would take turns as No. 1 Test batsman. Only Kohli has yet to reach the coveted spot as of now, and the signs are he’s headed in the right direction.

A fresh look at comparative numbers since August 2014 reveals that the batsmen, three of whom are now captains, are all excelling in the longest format, with all four producing numbers that indicate improvement.

The below table is sorted in reverse order of highest averages in Tests with a cut-off of 1,300 runs since 17 August 2014. Williamson, the New Zealand skipper, tops the list with an astounding average of 77.28. Smith, his Australian counterpart, isn’t far behind however.

Williamson and Smith have waged close battle at the top of the list. Root and Kohli are clustered together lower down, with only Adam Voges and Younis Khan separating the two pairings.

Player Matches Innings Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s
Kane Williamson 16 30 1932 242* 77.28 58.42 7 8
Steven Smith 24 43 2738 215 76.05 60.34 11 11
Adam Voges 18 27 1455 269* 72.75 56.46 5 4
Younis Khan 17 31 1846 218 65.92 55.38 8 2
Joe Root 24 44 2273 254 58.28 64.4 5 15
Virat Kohli 15 25 1390 200 55.6 59.14 6 3

Of the four, Kohli has by far the most impressive conversion rate of fifties to hundreds. Of the nine times he’s surpassed 50, there have been six three-figure scores – a conversion rate of 66.66 per cent. Smith with 11 hundreds and 11 fifties comes in second, with a conversion rate of 50 per cent.

Williamson who tops the chart when it comes to averages, converts only 46.66 per cent of his 50-plus essays into centuries, while Root comes last with a conversion rate of a mere 25 per cent.

These numbers cast a very general light on their performances; not taking into account the vagaries of home-and-away conditions. For a true measure, an away-home breakup of the batsmen’s numbers is critical.

The following table shows the batsmen’s performances away from home. Again, our four young subjects are accommodated within the top six columns of the parameter; highest average sorted in descending order with a minimum cut-off of 1,000 runs scored away from home in the last two years.

The two infiltrators this time are New Zealand’s Ross Taylor, and Pakistan’s Younis, with the veteran making another appearance.

Player M I Runs HS Avg SR 100s 50s
Ross Taylor 10 18 1092 290 78 67.15 4 3
Kane Williamson 10 18 1126 192 70.37 61.39 5 3
Younis Khan 17 31 1846 218 65.92 55.38 8 2
Joe Root 10 19 1031 182* 64.43 63.44 2 8
Steven Smith 14 26 1474 215 64.08 55.58 5 7
Virat Kohli 11 19 1190 200 62.63 60.62 6 2

Of the four, Williamson is again the table topper with an average of 70.37, bettered only by Taylor, his countryman. Kohli retains his position at the bottom with an average of 62.63. Root and Smith swap places, but the difference in their averages is in decimals. Root’s scored at 64.43, while Smith’s gone at 64.08.

Williamson’s conversion rate of 62.5 is a significant bump on his conversion rate on the general chart. Kohli, however, betters even that. With 6 hundreds from the eight times he’s gone past 50, his conversion rate is a whopping 75 per cent. Smith’s conversion rate in away games is 41.66, while Root again comes in at the bottom with an ordinary 20 per cent.

Coming to home averages, we’ll have to do things a tad differently. Firstly, India have played only four Tests at home in the last two years, which is too little a sample size for a fair representation. The outlook will be broadened to previous four years in order to make up for that. Also, due to the vast number of players that will rank above Kohli’s average of 44, we will only present numbers for the four stars in question on this table.

Player M I Runs HS Average SR 100s 50s
Steven Smith 15 26 1591 192 75.76 63.05 8 4
Kane Williamson 13 24 1348 242* 67.4 51.09 3 9
Joe Root 28 50 2601 254 59.11 57.81 8 12
Virat Kohli 16 24 944 107 44.95 48.58 3 5

On averages, Kohli remains at the bottom. Williamson, who topped the two previous charts, drops to second behind Smith. Root comes in at No. 3. On this list, there is relatively big spacing between the averages of all batsmen.

Smith’s conversion rate at home is an impressive 66.66 per cent. Williamson’s is exactly half that figure at 33.33. Root converts 40 per cent of his home fifties into hundreds, while Kohli converts 60 per cent.

They were questions as to how these batsmen would fare once they shouldered the burden of Test captaincy. While Root is yet to take over the reins, and Williamson’s captaincy journey is in its nascent stage, the early signs are extremely encouraging.

The below table compares the numbers of Smith, Kohli and Williamson the captains against their own numbers registered when not leading the side. The results show that each one of them has thrived under pressure thus far.

Steven Smith M I Runs HS Average SR 100s 50s
As captain 14 24 1559 192 74.23 63.19 7 6
When not captain 30 57 2540 215 51.83 54 8 11
Virat Kohli
As captain 13 21 1147 200 54.61 59.09 5 2
When not captain 31 55 2098 169 41.13 50.99 7 10
Kane Williamson
As captain 2 3 272 113 136 62.81 1 2
When not captain 48 89 4037 242* 49.23 48.09 13 19

From the figures above, it is safe to conclude that all four batsmen are on the right track. Kohli, who is perhaps the best limited-overs batsman of the lot, has some ground to cover in comparison to the others, but even his numbers are quite solid.

All batsmen have one key feature to pride themselves on. Kohli has a fantastic conversion rate which could help bump up his average going forward.

Williamson’s ability to score against all sorts of opposition was emphasised recently, when he became the youngest batsman to register Test hundreds against all the other nine Test-playing nations.

Of the lot, Smith still has the highest average overall, and is currently ranked No. 1 in the format.

Root’s conversion rates seem dismal when stacked against the others, but it is important to note that he has been hitting fifty-plus scores with great frequency. Being the youngest of the lot, he also has the time to catch up.

Statistics are never a complete means of gauging a batsman’s effectiveness, but they provide a fair idea. In the case of these batsmen, the quality on open display for all to witness each time they wield the willow. The numbers merely substantiate what is already known.