Virat Kohli (L) and Steven Smith    Getty Images
Virat Kohli (L) and Steven Smith Getty Images

England. That is the popular perception at the mention of toughest place to bat. This was where it all began. It is the game s abode. So, if you haven t scored enough in England, you won t be considered a great. It does require skills to counter the moving ball. But then, few have mastered the conditions. Haven t they?

Virat Kohli has a point to prove there and that s why he will head for Surrey after the IPL in order to prepare for the long English summer that follows. Steven Smith averages over 47 in contrast to Kohli s 13 in England. So, the verdict is out. Isn t it?

For a moment, let us not move away from the game s romanticism and perceptions. Is England really a tougher place to bat than South Africa? Taking a cut-off of 400 runs from visiting batsmen and digging numbers since the start of the 1990s (and in South Africa since 1992), here are some findings.

In England

Ave Batsmen
40 + 44
50 + 18
60 + 9

In South Africa

Ave Batsmen
40 + 20
50 + 9
60 + 2

South Africa has been a tough place for subcontinent batsmen, whereas Australians have done better because of similarity in conditions. However, Australian pitches have been transformed into better batting surfaces in recent years. South African wickets continue to have bounce and the ball does move around as well. In fact, no triple-hundred has been scored in South Africa.

Note: Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the three batsmen considered as greatest from the previous era, average close to 47 in South Africa, lower than their career averages. Rahul Dravid, who averages in the high 60s in England, averages below 30 in South Africa.

South Africa have been kinder to batsmen who score at rapid pace. Adam Gilchrist averages 65 in South Africa and has a strike rate of 97, David Warner 63 at 81 and Ben Stokes 59 at 109!

Kohli is inarguably the best batsman across formats but when it comes to Tests, Smith challenges his supremacy and taking the averages into the equation, Smith is head and shoulders above anyone but Don Bradman.

Kohli vs Smith in Tests

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
Kohli 66 5,554 53.40 243 58.3 21 16
Smith 64 6,199 61.37 239 55.5 23 24

If Kohli and Smith s numbers in England are compared to form a conclusion basis, it is only fair to compare their records in South Africa, the most difficult place to bat. Both of them now have two tours of South Africa and in the same seasons, 2013-14 and 2017-18.

Kohli batted on far more difficult wickets this season, especially in Cape Town and Johannesburg. He emerged as the lone centurion in the series from either side.

Kohli vs Smith Test record in South Africa

M R Ave HS SR 100s 50s
Kohli 5 558 55.80 153 58 2 2
Smith 6 411 41.10 100 53.3 1 2

If logic and numbers tell Smith is the best in Tests, going by the same, it is safe to derive that in the testing conditions of South Africa, it s Kohli s bat that does most the of the talking.

What about ODIs? Comparing anyone to against Kohli in this format isn t fair. Kohli averages a staggering 87.7 from 17 ODIs at a strike rate of over 90 in South Africa! Smith s numbers sound human: an average 39.33 from 8 ODIs at a strike rate of 84.

With 938 points, Smith leads the batting rankings in Tests. He was he still is points away from overtaking Don Bradman in all-time batting ratings. Kohli is second among his contemporaries, at 912. With no cricket for Smith for the next year, Kohli is destined for happier times once he conquers the England hurdle.