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The Roar


Steve Smith v Kane Williamson - is the Test series across the ditch to be their last battle?

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7th February, 2024

Kane Williamson is a year younger than Steve Smith. Both are generational players. Both have captained their nations and have careers to be justifiably proud of.

Smith is 34 ½ and Williamson is 33 ½. Cricketing mortality is always a concern for the player approaching mid 30s. Once the ‘eye’ becomes less sharp, once the capacity to overcome technical vulnerabilities lessens, the ‘immortals’ can come back to the field.

Right now there are some very great differences in the output of Smith and Williamson, which has led to the move of Smith to opener. Smith has long since passed his career ‘sweet spot’ – while Williamson might just be in one of his own.

Kane Williamson

Kane Williamson has hit another rich vein or form for the Black Caps. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

We’ve seen many greats peak and decline – one such example is former Australian captain Ricky Ponting.

Ponting’s capacity to convert 50s into 100s fell away. Through his peaking years from 1999 to 2008 he scored 35 centuries and 36 half centuries. He was 2-7 leading in to that phase of his career and he came out with a 4-19 ratio. His batting average peaked in 2006 at over 59 runs per innings, falling away to his final figure of 51.85.

After the calendar year 2006 Ponting had the Bradmanesque average for the year of 88.86. That season was the culmination of his career ‘sweet spot’. Across 2002-2006 and 57 tests he rattled off 6141 runs at 72.24. Ponting never again managed more an average above 50 for a calendar year.

Contrast this with Greg Chappell, who finished with a final season in 1983/84 averaging 72.8, and a career average of 53.86 (boosted from 53.11 going into that final season). Chappell was 35 at the time and could have continued on had he chosen. He departed with reputation very much intact if not enhanced.


Steve Waugh somewhat similarly managed a last hurrah. After his career average had dipped below 50 he was able to rebound through 2003 and a final match double of 40 and 80 stretched the average back over 51 (from 50.97 to 51.06). After a very dry 2002 (just 456 runs at 30.4), that last 12 months of his career very much protected the ‘legacy’.

Steve Smith celebrates a century

Steven Smith celebrates another century. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

There’s irony in both Ponting and Waugh completing 168 test matches each and finishing with averages of 51.85 and 51.06, but Waugh’s peak career batting average never got anywhere near Ponting’s.

Steve Smith through 2017 had scaled the heights, with career average up over 63 and even after a dry 2018 he rebounded in 2019 to be back over 62. The Golden Era of 2014-2019 (with a 2018 hiccup) saw Smith produce 6194 runs at 72.02 across 56 tests, a very, very similar career sweet spot metric to that of Ricky Ponting.

Smith has subsequently ‘struggled’, failing to average 60 for any calendar year. Granted, 2022 returned 876 runs at 58.4, however that was very much boosted by an unbeaten 200 dining out on a weakened West Indies side in Perth.

Smith has resorted to opening the innings now and we all sat in judgement on him across the 2 match series against this most recent incarnation of the West Indies – a very different proposition with the wonderful talent of Shamar Joseph unleashed. A stuttering start but an unbeaten 91 to carry the bat may indeed be the making of SPD Smith, opening Batsman.


Why is it so important? Since that 200 (and another 20* in the 2nd dig) in Perth in November 2022, Smith had 17 tests (before this series as opener) producing 1133 runs at ‘just’ 40.46. That’s a very solid body of evidence of an immortal being brought back to the field.

Even his 3 centuries in that time were ‘small’ 100s; 104, 121 and 110. Granted, this included a 4 match tour of India for just 145 runs at 29 and context is everything. The WTC final at the Oval against India saw Smith reel off that 121 (and 34). The subsequent Ashes series in England produced 373 runs at 37.3, far from his previous dizzying heights and illustrating just how big a fall is occurring.

The contrast across the ditch to the recent red ball form of one K. Williamson is interesting. It’s granted opposition put up by South Africa is not test match standard, nevertheless Williamson has gone back to back with 118 and 109 in the 1st test in Mount Maunganui.

ricky ponting plays a sweep

Ricky Ponting at the 2011 ICC World Cup. (Photo by Nagesh Ohal/India Today Group/Getty Images)

This makes six Williamson centuries from his last 6 tests, with 132 vs England, back-to-back-to-back scores of 121*, 215 and 104 against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in Bangladesh.

The Williamson career average worm has been continuing to rise since 2016, from 49 to 50.6 by end of 2017 to 52.9 by end of 2020 to 54.05 by end of 2022 to his career high now of 55.12. Williamson is 10 tests and 1 century behind Smith. The Smith average still sits higher at 58.03, but there’s a convergence of these two trend lines.

Looking at Ponting and Smith’s career sweet spots in comparison to Williamson, his most intense phase of test matches was 2012-2016 (48 tests for 4160 runs at 52.65). However his ‘sweet spot’ for 2017-present has seen just 41 tests with 3842 runs at 64.03.


Through 2020-2022 Williamson played just 11 tests while Smith managed 19, and Smith already has another 16 since then compared to just 8 more for Williamson.

This highlights the great inequity and quandary of Test cricket. The absence of any sense of an organised schedule sees some players more able to make hay while the sun shines on their career, whilst others find Tests come along all too few and far between.

As it is, in March we see Australia and New Zealand go head to head in only 2 tests, sadly. Is it the last time ‘Smith vs Williamson’ plays out? 2026/27 feels a long way away right now.