Decoding Steven Smith’s unique batting technique
The Australian captain seems to be unstoppable at the moment in Test cricket.
Steven Smith made his Test debut for Australia alongside Tim Paine way back in 2010 against Pakistan at the iconic Lord's Cricket Ground. The then 21-year old batted at number eight after the wicket-keeper as he was picked in the side as a leg spinner who could bat a bit.
Fast forward to 2017, Paine has returned to the playing XI for the 2017/18 Ashes series opener Brisbane after missing 78 Tests and consequently managed to equal the Australian record for most consecutive Tests missed between appearances. In the meanwhile, Smith has become captain of Australia and established himself also one of the best batsmen of his generation.
When he started his career, many argued that his technique was too faulty and would not survive at the international level for long. Opposing teams fancied their chances to dislodge him because of his shuffle across the stumps. Smith hasn’t changed his technique but has found a way to score consistently in his own inimitable manner.
Smith’s 21st Test hundred came in his 105th innings. He is the third fastest to get to the landmark, in terms of innings taken. So what makes him tick and score plenty of runs on a consistent basis? Let us analyse the technical aspects of his unorthodox style of batting.
Hanging on the back foot
It is common knowledge that Smith has a unique technique when compared to some great players of this generation such as Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root. While all of them are primarily front foot players, Smith prefers to hang on his back foot. The Australian batsman's shuffle across the stumps makes every bowler think that he is prone to leg before dismissals. However, they have been unable to breach his defence on the vast majority of occasions.
While Williamson and Root have been brought up playing in seam-friendly conditions, their initial movement is bound to be on the front foot to counter the extravagant swing. The lack of pace and bounce on Indian pitches forces batsmen like Kohli to get on the front foot. Unlike these three players, Smith prefers to be on the back foot on most occasions because of the bouncy nature of Australian pitches.
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Since he plays off the back foot to a length that many play on the front foot, the opponent pacer then has to adjust and bowl a fuller length to him. The moment it’s too full, Smith is ready to play the cover drive. More often than not, he tends to find the various gaps on the field present on either sides of the wicket.
Impeccable shot selection
One of the main attributes for any batsman to be successful is shot selection and Smith is an absolute master in such regard. The right hander looks to leave anything outside off stump when he is fresh at the crease. The fact that he shuffles across the crease makes the bowlers bowl on the stumps looking for the leg before dismissal. When they venture onto his pads, he tucks them on the leg side for runs.
Another example of great shot selection was on display at the Gabba during his magnificent hundred. Since it was an unusually slow wicket, the cover drive on the up was a difficult stroke to play and Smith made sure he wasn’t driving the ball through the off side until he reached his milestone. He was prepared to grind it out by defending properly and playing risk-free cricket.
Technically sound against pace and spin alike
Earlier this year against India on a minefield of a track at Pune, Smith scored a magnificent hundred against the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The knock was regarded as one of the best by a visiting batsmen in Indian shores.
Smith is one of the best players of spin in world cricket at the moment. He does extremely well on rank turners by picking up lengths very early. Subsequently, he is able to play fuller deliveries on the front foot and manages to go right back to anything slightly short.
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His technique playing pace has improved leaps and bounds over a period of time. The secret to his batting has been the way in which he plays the ball so late. Very rarely does he make contact early. For all the shuffle and fidgety movements at the crease, Smith’s head stays still while making contact with the ball and that’s the most important facet to the art of Test batting.
By the looks of things, it will take something extraordinary from England to stop the run machine from reclaiming the Ashes urn.