Fire vs ice. Hot vs cold. Within the mega battle for the World Test Championship title will be playing out the high-profile clash between India captain Virat Kohli and New Zealand skipper Kane Willaimson.
It seems like Kohli and Williamson, two of the best batsmen and inspirational leaders of the current generation are destined to fight against each other for as long as they play cricket.
It began in 2008 when Kohli-led India defeated Williamson-captained New Zealand in the semi-finals of the Under-19 World Cup. The young Indians would then go on to beat South Africa in the final to lift the trophy. Kohli starred in the New Zealand match with his crucial knock of 43 and two wickets including that of Williamson.
The Virat Kohli-Kane Williamson rivalry began during their U-19 days in 2008. File Image
In what can be called a reverse fixture, during the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, Williamson scored an invaluable 67 in a low-scoring match against India, taking his side to the summit clash of the mega event. They would, however, cruelly lose the final to England on the boundary-count rule.
The World Test Championship final will be the next edition in this 13-year old rivalry. The winner would have his hands on the first senior ICC trophy. It would be a culmination of the hard work both the talismans have done with their teams.
Contrasting personalities, different batting styles
Kohli took over India's captaincy from MS Dhoni who not only made India the No 1 Test team in the world but also won them all ICC trophies. The primary task for Kohli was to help India sustain the progress they were making in international cricket.
Despite some valid criticism, the 32-year-old Indian cricketer has done a commendable job, especially in the Test arena. In his reign, India have consistently been the top team in Test cricket and also came close to multiple ICC trophies, only for heartbreaking losses at the deciding stages.
With 36 wins from 60 Tests, Kohli is India's most successful Test captain ever. Under his leadership, India won their first Test series in Australia in 2018.
Similarly, Williamson became New Zealand captain after their trailblazing 2015 World Cup campaign under the leadership of the enigmatic Brendon McCullum. With 21 wins from 36 matches, the 30-yeard-old Kiwi is Black Caps' second most successful Test captain. Only ahead of him is Stephen Fleming who won 28 out of 80 matches.
Both Kohli and Williamson are arguably also the leading batsmen in world cricket. Their growth as cricketers, batsmen, and records as captain follow a similar trajectory, but the methodology behind how they have managed all of it is starkly different.
Kohli, in appearance nothing less than a male model with his toned body, trendsetting hairstyles, and perfectly trimmed beard, is very much the in-your-face guy. He wears his heart on the sleeve and keeps his feeling on his lips. Full-blooded celebration and ruthless attitude about not giving an inch have been trademarks of the cricketing superstar.
Poles apart from him, Williamson revels in his zen-like outlook and calm functioning. He is not a fashion icon, though he has a strong beard game. He is what you would describe as a typical Kiwi. Humble and fearless.
And this massive difference in their approach towards life is also visible in their captaincy. Both are modern-day captains and like to attack. However, they do it in their own styles.
Kohli likes to build pressure on the opposition from the start. Challenges them skill-wise and mentally. If required, he makes quick changes to his team. Williamson loves to build pressure over time. He knows his best bets and backs those players to hilt.
Former Australian cricketer Brett Lee perfectly summarised the difference between their leadership.
"Kane is a lot more conservative without being boring. He has got a great cricket brain. I admire his level of calmness. He is a conservative captain, but attacks when he needs to. Because he is patient, and it works for him and his team," the former pacer said."...and you look at Kohli, he is more of an aggressive captain."
Just like demeanour, their batting is also quite different. Their defence is rock solid and the technique is textbook, but they have a different liking for playing strokes. Kohli prefers to get on top of the ball, play his drives and hook shots. Willaimson prefers playing close to the body, as late as possible.
Foes on the field, friends off it
The most interesting bit of Kohli-Williamson's rivalry, however, is the friendship both share off the field, which is somewhat unusual among elite sportspersons. The advent of the Indian Premier League has brought foreign cricketers closer but when you are one of the best in the sport, the competitiveness keeps the friendship away from the relationship you share with your biggest foes.
Kohli has a lot of respect for David Warner, Steve Smith or Joe Root but can't really count them among friends. That hasn't been the case with Williamson though. Them having a nice chat while sitting outside the boundary line during an India-New Zealand match in 2020 became one of the iconic moments of the sport in the year.
Talking bout their growing friendship, the New Zealander in 2020 said: "Probably over the last few years we just shared our views on the game, some honest thoughts and found some common grounds and despite perhaps playing the game a little bit differently in terms of physically and maybe our on-field characters I suppose."
Both Kohli and Williamson are batting giants and their numbers also add to their rivalry. The Indian captain has amassed 22,818 runs across 435 international games while Williamson has 15,107 in 302 matches.
As a captain in Tests, Kohli has scored 5,392 runs in 60 matches at an average of 58.61. His Kiwi counterpart has 3092 runs against his name in 36 matches at 60.63.
3,760 out of Kohli's 7,490 Test runs have come in 48 overseas Test at an average of 44.23. He boasts of an average of 64.31 in 43 home Tests. Williamson has scored 7,129 runs in 84 Tests. 3,327 in 43 away matches at 45.58 and 3,788 at home in 41 matches at 65.31.
In the most difficult conditions of Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, Kohli has managed 2,889 runs in 32 matches at an average of 45.56. Williamson in Australia, England, India and South Africa has scored 1,406 runs in 23 matches at an average of 31.39. Kohli's better overseas numbers along with his superior T20 skills does give him an edge over Willaimson but the margin is very thin.
Both are the MVPs (most valuable player) of their respective sides and have had a telling impact on their World Test Championship campaigns eventually taking the teams this close to the trophy.
They are talented but talent honours those who honour talent. Their growth as cricketers is a result of their impeccable work ethics which prioritises honesty, discipline, hard work and above all originality. Their hunger for supremacy drives their game and enriches the cricketing world.
There's a lot that we can learn from them. Most importantly being who we are. Kohli stays in the headlines because he loves to be at the centre of the action; Williamson makes less noise because that is what he prefers and their actions and demeanour have complimented their evolution as cricketers, being a major force behind their success.
It's not new for us to try and emulate the champions, but if there's one thing Kohli and Williamson have taught us, it's to stay true to ourselves.
Yes, success is a product of a process, but that process doesn't have a type. There's no one-size-fits-all mantra for success. If Kohli had tried to rein himself in, in response to criticism, or Williamson had tried to be more aggressive to fit that universally expected leader prototype, they wouldn't have been the people we admire so much. Their authenticity is the cornerstone of their success.