WHO is better – Joe Root or Virat Kholi?
The question has been doing the rounds this week to mark the 50th Test appearance of both players.
In many ways, one might as well ask – how long is a piece of string?
For it is a question with no definitive answer, one ripe for endless bar room debate.
Statistically, Root is the better Test player and Kholi the superior white-ball batsman.
Root has scored 4,284 Test runs at 53.55, while Kholi has hit 3,810 at 47.62.
Kholi has amassed 7,570 one-day international runs at 52.93 compared with Root’s 3,017 at 45.71.
Kholi’s T20 international record reads 1,657 runs at 57.13 against Root’s 600 at 37.50.
In the final analysis, it probably boils down to whether one’s sympathies lie closer to Sheffield or Delhi, the respective birthplaces of both men.
What cannot be argued is that they are among the elite of modern batsmen, along with such as New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Australia’s Steve Smith.
What cannot be argued either is that both have had a significant impact already on the present Test series.
Root helped to set up England’s chance of victory in the opening game in Rajkot with a magnificent 124, while Kholi helped save that match with an unbeaten 49 on the final day.
At Visakhapatnam, Kholi took his score on to 167 yesterday as India made 455 in their first innings, Root top-scoring with 53 in reply as England stuttered to 103-5 at stumps on day two.
No doubt the battle between them will continue to rage and have a major bearing on the five-Test series.
Honours in the second Test have so far belonged to Kholi, who seems to be improving as a Test match cricketer.
He averaged only 24 against England prior to his latest century, and it was his ninth hundred in 30 innings as captain, two of which he converted into doubles.
Like Root, he is a stylish offside batsman who relishes a battle, a man who thrives on the games within a game.
Whereas Root disarms opponents with a cheeky grin, lulling them into a false sense of security, Kholi’s face flashes fury in the manner of a street fighter, albeit one who has lost some of the more unsavoury edges.
As well as Kholi has played in this match, both he and India have had the best of conditions, just as Root and England enjoyed them in Rajkot.
Yesterday, it was difficult for Root on a low pitch offering increasing spin, highlighting the advantage in India of winning the toss.
India cashed in after Kholi won the toss this time, just as England cashed in when Alastair Cook called correctly in the opening game.
The key difference so far has been that while India came within touching distance of achieving first innings parity in Rajkot, England went into today’s action still 352 runs adrift of their opponent’s score, staring down the barrel of probable defeat.
After Kholi added 16 to his overnight score before becoming one of three quick wickets for Moeen Ali, Root looked confident and busy right from the get-go.
The sight of Cook’s off stump being snapped in two would not have filled England’s No3 with confidence as he walked to the crease, but he was soon into his stride with a brace of boundaries off Mohammed Shami – one aggressively flicked in front of square, the other dispatched wide of mid-on.
With 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed for company, Root took England to the promising platform of 51-1.
But disaster struck when Root fatally sent back Hameed as the Yorkshireman contemplated taking a second run into the leg side, and England quickly lost their way.
After Ben Duckett was bowled by Ravi Ashwin, who again exposed a technical flaw with the batsman’s front foot that left the stumps exposed, Root fell moments after reaching his half-century.
He tried to loft Ashwin down the ground only to be caught by Umesh Yadav at deep-ish mid-off, having failed to get to the pitch of the ball.
It was a frustrating end to a fine innings, for Root had appeared relatively comfortable despite the conditions.
Had Kevin Pietersen played a stroke like that, no doubt everyone would have criticised him for a rush of blood.
Not that Geoffrey Boycott was afraid to speak from the heart, on the radio, branding Root’s dismissal as “totally immature”.
“We all make mistakes,” said Boycott, “but he (Root) is one of the most mature players in world cricket.
“He played lovely for fifty. Ashwin bowled him a ball that turned and hit his glove. The next ball he tried to hit him over the top. That was totally immature and unnecessary.”
Boycott added that “the game has gone” for Root and his team-mates.
It will certainly be a remarkable achievement if they manage to escape.