With Kane Williamson stepping down as New Zealand’s captain in Test cricket, all four of the ‘Fab Four’ group of players have now relinquished the captaincy role in the longest format of the game. Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are credited with revitalising Test cricket in their respective countries, each with a different take on how to approach the red-ball game, both with the bat and as their team’s leader.
As the era of domination by the ‘Fab Four’ nearly comes to an end, let’s take a look at how each of the four fared as a Test captain:
Perhaps the player with the most impact on Test cricket over the past decade, Virat Kohli stepped down as India’s captain in the longest format of the game earlier this year. He ended his reign as India’s most successful Test captain – with a win percentage of 58.82, only Ricky Ponting boasts of similar numbers in the modern-day game.
Virat Kohli has led India to victories in uncharted territories, with victories in South Africa and England, followed by a historic series win in Australia. Combined with a superb record on home tracks, Virat Kohli’s men sat at the top of Test rankings for much of the last decade. Under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, India also qualified for the final of the inaugural World Test Championship but had to settle for a second-place finish.
The 34-year-old also boasts of a terrific record with the bat over the past eight years, even though there was a slump in his form towards the last few months of his captaincy. With an average of 54.80, Virat Kohli has amassed 5864 runs from 113 innings, breaking record after record both at home and abroad. Twenty of his 27 centuries in the format came as the team’s captain, with just Joe Root ahead of him in overall centuries.
Virat Kohli’s aggressive approach to the game, which is now being emulated by Ben Stokes, has helped garner interest in Test cricket among Indian fans. India’s tours of Australia and England generated unprecedented viewership partly due to the team’s do-or-die nature, and the famous victory at The Gabba stands as a testament to Virat Kohli’s ability to make India one of the most dangerous visitors in the history of Test cricket.
The only traditional Test batsman of the group, Joe Root’s gentlemanly approach to the game over years has helped England keep their fortunes alive in many games. Despite his conservative approach to the game in the modern age, Joe Root retired as England’s most successful Test captain – surpassing Alastair Cook in both the win percentage and the sheer number of Test victories.
Joe Root has captained England in 64 Tests over five years, winning 27 Tests and losing 26. The Win-Loss Ratio of 1.03 is the perfect representation of England’s red-ball fortunes under Joe Root’s captaincy, with the team’s performance wavering from one game to the next. Joe Root was often the only batsman keeping the team alive in the game, with the rest of the players hardly doing justice to their roles.
So poor were the English side in red-ball cricket that they won just one of their last 17 Tests under Joe Root’s captaincy. While he has been blamed for his poor captaincy towards the end of his reign, it was England’s excessive focus on white-ball cricket that was really to blame. Joe Root has 28 centuries and 55 half-centuries to his name in Test cricket, with only Steve Smith boasting of a better record.
While Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes turned to a new brand of Test cricket named the ‘Bazball’ that is revolutionising Test cricket, Joe Root remains an integral part of the English Test side.
Australia’s Steve Smith was the poster boy of the perfect Test captain – before the infamous ball-tampering scandal broke out and cut short his career. Aggressive, talented and hungry for runs, Steve Smith’s rivalry with Virat Kohli was widely followed by fans from both nations – with records tumbling one after the other as both players farmed runs on the field.
As captain, Steve Smith led Australia for just 36 Tests, boasting a win percentage of 55.55. Steve Smith was imperious with the bat, scoring 3793 runs as captain at an average of 67.73, with only the legendary Don Bradman miles above him. As captain, Steve Smith has scored 15 centuries and 14 half-centuries – with eight of those hundreds coming in winning causes.
But more than his captaincy stint, it is Steve Smith’s redemption arc that will now remain his legacy. After being banned for the infamous ball-tampering scandal in 2018, Steve Smith has not only regained his form with the bat but has also made himself a viable captaincy candidate with his behaviour on and off the field.
While the days of Virat Kohli and Steve Smith competing with each other to set new Test ranking milestones are behind us, both players can still clash in an exciting contest when Australia tour India next year.
Considered the cool guy of the group, Kane Williamson stepped down last week as New Zealand’s most successful Test captain. The Blackcaps have gone from underdogs of world cricket to its heavyweights, reaching the finals of the ODI World Cup in 2019, and clinching the inaugural World Test Championship in 2021.
New Zealand won 22 of the 40 Tests they played under Kane Williamson’s leadership, with a win percentage of 55. Unlike the other three teams which heavily depended on their skippers to lead them from the front, New Zealand were a more well-balanced side. Even then, Kane Williamson averaged 57.43 through his captaincy tenure, scoring 3331 runs, with 11 centuries and 14 half-centuries to his name.
But similar to the other three of the group, Kane Williamson’s form as both player and captain dipped in the last year. With just two wins in the last eight Tests, New Zealand need an urgent course correction in time for the next World Test Championship cycle. Kane Williamson likely has a longer career left than either Virat Kohli or Steve Smith and has all the qualities required to reach milestones in Test cricket by taking his own time like Joe Root.
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