With the relative and varying dips in form across formats of the game’s fabled Fab Four, determining the best cross-format batter in the men’s game is less clear than it recently was.
Joe Root’s Test form may be imperious but it’s been over three years since he last represented England in T20I cricket. Steve Smith still retains a Test batting average of 60 but it would be a stretch to label the former Australia captain as an elite T20 batter. Kane Williamson – the only member of the Fab Four who still captains his country – recently endured a miserable IPL campaign while Virat Kohli’s wait for an international hundred is approaching its fourth year.
With that in mind, four Wisden writers pick out who they think is the best all-format batter in the men’s game right now.
Aadya Sharma, Wisden India editor – Babar Azam
There is very little to debate, really. Babar Azam is head and shoulders above the rest, having metamorphosed into a run-churning juggernaut that continues to roll on. It took some time, but he’s finally arrived in Test cricket, and there are no signs of slowing down.
Babar rapidly established himself and aced the ODI format, and applied some of that same flair to T20Is without the typical belligerence that comes along. For the longest time in Tests, though, he was nearly there but not quite. It’s all falling into place now – in five Tests this year, he averages 73.44, having produced a couple of epic fourth-innings knocks. He’s now behind Marnus Labsuchagne in the Test batting rankings, with only Joe Root ahead of them. The gap between him and the summit is slowly closing.
There’s very little that needs saying in the other two formats. In ODIs, he continues to fly high, perched at the top of the rankings charts (he averages 91.40 in 2022). In T20Is, his still No.1 amid tight competition, and could press harder on the pedal at the World Cup. He’s done it all at 27 – it’s scary what he could go on to achieve.
Ben Gardner, Wisden.com managing editor – Rohit Sharma
This is a nearly unanswerable question, but then I suppose that’s the point. Babar Azam is the rankings behemoth, the ODI great and the burgeoning Test gun, but those questions over his short-format strike-rate are what keep him from the title in my reckoning. Jonny Bairstow is a contender, if you compress ‘right now’ into purely the last couple of months, but that Test rebirth is still a new, somewhat fragile thing. And so I’ve settled on Rohit Sharma. Being captain of India in all three formats generally means you are pretty close to being the best there is, and while there are caveats, his case is a compelling one.
For so long, it seemed as if Test excellence might elude him, a home-track plunderer clashing with struggles away. A promotion to opening worked in India, but could he do it against prime new-ball attacks away? There were glimpses, more than that perhaps, against Australia in the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and then that sublime tour of England, and finally that first overseas ton in a landmark win. It’s a minor tragedy that Covid ruled him out of the decider, but we know now that that technical purity and quiet steel can be brought to bear in any conditions.
His quality in ODI cricket needs little reminding: 29 tons, including three doubles, as many as every other man who has ever lived put together. He would be a genuine contender for a spot in an all-time world XI in the format.
And recently, proving that he isn’t done adapting yet, has come a change to his T20I approach. With four hundreds – another record – there was little doubt he could play, but meagre IPL returns and India’s somewhat staid gameplan meant it was possible to doubt his calibre. Now, under the watchful eye of himself and Rahul Dravid, India are abandoning caution, and Rohit is leading the charge. A T20 World Cup, and a chance to secure his legacy as a captain, batter and all-format titan, awaits.
Sarah Waris, Wisden India staff writer – Jonny Bairstow
There is hardly a debate as to who is the best all-format batter on current form: Jonny Bairstow. The introduction of Brendon McCullum to the England coaching set-up and his ‘BazBall’ philosophy has allowed Bairstow to play his natural game, taking England to a succession of improbable wins this summer.
Before 2022, Bairtsow’s Test average was an ordinary 33.49. This year, he is the leading run-scorer in the format, and is just six runs short of 1,000 runs, having played just eight games. No other player has scored more centuries (six), and only Rishabh Pant has batted with a better strike rate than Bairstow this year (min. 300 runs). His newfound approach has made him a dangerous player in a batting line-up that had previously been over-reliant on Joe Root.
Bairstow is also ninth in the ICC Men’s ODI Batting rankings.. He was on fire in ODIs last year, finishing 2021 with an average of 58.20, even higher than his career average, which is a notch below 47. In the shortest format, Bairstow recently struck a 53-ball 90 against South Africa, effortlessly transitioning from Test cricket to T20Is in a matter of a few weeks.
On current form, there are very few batters who can score big runs repeatedly but also bat with the strike rate that he has managed across all formats, making him an easy pick.
Yas Rana, Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast host – Rishabh Pant
Such is the way that Pant plays, there will always been the odd occasion where he frustrates. His instinct is to first attack, not merely survive, and it’s a mantra that serves him well in all formats and arguably, perhaps counter-intuitively, best in Test cricket. When you take a step back, it is scary to think what Pant has achieved by the age of 24. He has Test hundreds in Australia, England and South Africa. In 2020/21, he was India’s star player in one of the most extraordinary heists the modern Test game seen; he also averages over 60 in home Tests.
In T20 cricket, we have only seen glimpses of Pant reaching his substantial potential but it is clear that his ceiling is higher than almost every other batter on the planet. In 2018, when he was still only 20, he produced one of the all-time great IPL campaigns, averaging over 50 with a monstrous strike rate of 173.60. His ODI record is fast improving and will only get better; he is one of just 10 players to average over 35 and strike over 100 the format.