I rate England Test skipper Joe Root highly as a batsman, but I’ve always found it a bit silly that he often gets included in the same sentence as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.
Is that a ridiculous hot take, or do the statistics support that viewpoint?
Well, you’ve been warned: here come the numbers.
Given we’re currently in the middle of an Ashes series, we’ll start with Test records.
Kohli, Smith and Williamson all average well over 50, at 53.7, 63.0 and 53.4, respectively. Meanwhile, Root remains below the arbitrary – but nonetheless relevant – 50 mark with an average of 48.9.
It’s telling that he’s at least four runs behind the rest of them. For those that say it’s just a mere boundary, consider how different an average of 45 to 49 reads. Four runs is significant, no question.
Also, I must point out that Steve Smith’s Test record is just insane. But I digress.
Root has also played the most Tests (82) and innings (151) of the four, yet he’s only scored 16 centuries to Kohli’s 25, Smith’s 25, and Williamson’s 20. Again, that’s a noteworthy discrepancy.
Perhaps the most damning statistic is Root’s conversion rate of 50s to 100s – he’s scored 16 tons and 42 half-centuries. That’s poor for a batsman of his quality. In comparison, Kohli has scored 25 centuries and 20 half-centuries, Smith has scored 25 and 24, and Williamson has scored 20 and 30.
The Test numbers don’t lie: Root simply isn’t in the Holy Trinity’s class.
However, when you factor in limited-overs performances, you do start to get a sense of why Root might just sneak into the conversation.
In ODIs, Root averages 51.36 at a strike rate of 87.37 with 16 hundreds, compared with Kohli’s average of 59.4 at a strike rate of 93 with 41 hundreds, Smith’s average of 41.41 at a strike rate of 86.31 with eight hundreds, and Williamson’s average of 47.9 at a strike rate of 81.82 with 13 hundreds.
In International T20s – in which, somewhat surprising, none of the quartet have managed to score a hundred – Root averages 35.7 at a strike rate of 126 with five half-centuries compared with Kohli’s average of 49.14 at a strike rate of 135.96 with 20 half-centuries, Smith’s average of 21.55 at a strike rate of 122.44 with two half-centuries, and Williamson’s average of 31.35 at a strike rate of 121.76 with nine half-centuries.
Based on those figures, a couple of things stand out.
The first is that while Smith has a significant lead in the Test arena, he’s well behind the other three in the shorter formats of the game.
Kohli is undoubtedly the most consistent, with eye-popping numbers that actually force you to fact-check them a couple of times, such is the unbelievable nature of his record. He’s the No.1 batsman in the world based on those stats.
Despite Williamson finally being widely regarded as world-class and receiving the kudos he deserves, he’s still somewhat underrated when you realise he’s right there statistically with the other modern-day greats.
Lastly, and most relevant to this discussion, Root is an excellent performer no matter the format, which somewhat justifies his inclusion in the discussion of the best batsmen in the world.
However, the majority of cricketers want to perform at the highest level, and as the name aptly suggests, Test cricket is the ultimate test. It takes technique, temperament, talent, fitness and mental toughness to do well in five-day cricket.
For many pundits, performing in limited-overs cricket means little if you don’t also have a great Test record. It is the absolute pinnacle, and if you’re averaging over 50 in Test cricket, you’re a great batsman.
Root averages 49. It might just be a single run, but combined with that poor conversion rate, it ensures he’ll still be regarded a touch below those other greats.
At 28 years of age, he’s not even in his prime yet, so he has plenty of time to get that average up over 50 and improve that conversion rate.
Yet until he does, he’ll be considered very good, but not great.