Sunil Gavaskar column: Kohli, Smith and individual rivalries

Often, rivalry exists between two players who may not even be playing against each other. Soon after Virat Kohli scored his long-awaited century in the Asia Cup, Steve Smith followed suit in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

Taking a cue: Steve Smith scored 105 in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy just three days after Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 122 in the Asia Cup against Afghanistan.

Taking a cue: Steve Smith scored 105 in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy just three days after Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 122 in the Asia Cup against Afghanistan. | Photo Credit: AFP

Often, rivalry exists between two players who may not even be playing against each other. Soon after Virat Kohli scored his long-awaited century in the Asia Cup, Steve Smith followed suit in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

Cricket is a team game. But even in a team sport, there are individual rivalries that spice up the matches.

These rivalries could be between the top batter of one team and the top bowler of the opposition. It could be between two captains trying to outsmart each other. It could be between wicketkeepers. These are rivalries you expect: teams know that if they win particular individual battles, their team may have a good chance of winning the match.

There is also the rivalry where the players may not even be playing against each other but keep a watch on what the other is doing.

For the last half a dozen years or so, the cricket world has been thrilled with the exploits of the Fab Four, as the media loved to call them.

The Fab Four are India’s Virat Kohli, Australia’s Steve Smith, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and England’s Joe Root. These players have been without doubt the foremost batters in international cricket in the last few years.

In the last couple of years, Pakistani batter Babar Azam has pushed himself into that bracket with some terrific batting, both at home and overseas. Earlier, Babar would delight with some brilliant half-centuries, but in the last couple of years, he has understood that he wasn’t doing justice to his enormous batting ability by not going on to play the big innings. He has begun to get centuries and consistently, too, which is why he is now thought of as the best all-format batter in the game.

Kohli v Smith

When these players are playing for their countries and get a century or more, others take notice and want to do better.

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This was exemplified just last week when Kohli got his long-awaited century. Lo and behold, a few days later, Steve Smith, who was also going through a dry run as far as scoring centuries was concerned, came up with a capital century to give Australia a huge total in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

It’s uncanny how often this happens in the game.

When Nathan Lyon picks wickets, India’s R. Ashwin uses all his wiles to come up with a better haul even though they may not be playing against each other. For a long time, there was a question mark against Lyon for his inability to bowl Australia to a win on the final day or the fourth innings of the match. However, on the recent Australia tour of Pakistan, he did pick five-fors in the last innings in two Tests and so has shaken that monkey off his back.

Now that Kohli and Smith have both got into their usual century mode, cricket lovers are eagerly looking forward to the T20 World Cup that is to be played in Australia next month. It’s extremely tough to hit centuries in the ultra-short format of the game, and especially so if one bats in the middle order. Kohli got his century opening the batting for India but whether he gets to open the batting in the T20 World Cup remains to be seen. That said, with that century, he has given the selection committee the option of not taking a third opening batter than skipper Rohit Sharma and vice-captain K. L. Rahul.

The new Indian international season begins shortly and the fans are counting the days to see their favourites in action.

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