One and a half years ago, he was the disgraced Australian captain after the Cape Town ball-tampering controversy. He broke down during the press conference which followed the incident and was consequently banned for a year by Cricket Australia.
On August 1st, the same man made his Test comeback against arch-rivals England in the prestigious Ashes series to carve out a 144-run inning that would rank amongst the very best. By now, the individual should be known. Yes, it is Steven Smith and his popularity shouldn't be surprising given the stature he enjoys for all sorts of reasons.
The unofficial flagbearer
The same stature was evident when David 'Bumble' Lloyd, the commentator said, "Oh he is going to review it. He is the captain," when Steven Smith reviewed an incorrect LBW call from Aleem Dar when he was on 34. Obviously, it was a slip of the tongue from David Lloyd but it indirectly reflected Smith's quality and reputation.
The innings was all the more special considering that it came at Edgbaston, a ground which witnessed one of the greatest Tests during the 2005 Ashes series.
Anyone would have excused him for being rusty on his return to Test cricket for a long time. Even David Warner got out for 2, albeit off a wrong decision. Oh sorry, the case is different here considering that boos were constant throughout the day. The mark of a champion was how he turned all those boos into literal woos as a packed Edgbaston crowd stood up to applaud a sensational knock.
Well known unorthodoxy
This knock was a typical Steven Smith one. Nothing different. His mandatory shuffles and fidgety movements were all there to be seen. The problem with this unique batsman is that you always feel there is a chance as a bowler to nab him. Such movement across the crease should mean that Smith should be easy prey to even the slightest bit of movement right? After all, so much of cricketing basics are focussed on stability and alignment at the crease.
However, Smith has a special talent and that is the invaluable trait of excellent hand and eye coordination. This is the same talent the likes of Sir Vivian Richards, Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya possessed.
Why is this a big deal? It is because when a bowler looks to rap Smith on his pads when he is on the move, the hand and eye coordination helps him to effortlessly flick it through square leg. This was yet again a big feature of his 144-run knock on Thursday. A lot of his boundaries came in that region. Bowlers might want to be positive and hope that Smith will miss at least one ball but it almost never happens.
The next step would obviously target the 30-year-old batsman with deliveries outside off. For all his instability, he manages to stay still when the ball reaches him and also remain disciplined. Smith rarely goes searching at the balls which are wide outside off and instead tries to target the 'V' down the ground. This is yet another hallmark of a great Test match batsman as offering a straight bat minimises the chance of edging behind. His four boundaries down the ground highlight the same.
Steven Smith is also a great inning builder and the ideal batsman to bat with the tail. He scored his fifty off 119 balls. Such a sedate approach was necessary considering that his partners didn't provide any sort of resistance. Yes, the duo of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes made superb use of the helpful Dukes ball but the surface was a pretty good one to bat on. However, most of the Australian batsmen including the skipper Tim Paine got out to disappointing and careless shots. It was only the number nine, Peter Siddle who supported Smith as Australia recovered from 122-8 to 210-9 when the former got out.
The last stand
With just a wicket left, Smith showed his versatility and brought some big shots as he scored 94 runs off 100 balls after his fifty. His 74-run last wicket partnership with Nathan Lyon helped Australia post a respectable 284 on the board. It was only an attempt to play an ugly slog off Stuart Broad that eventually brought an end to a classy Test match knock from Steve Smith.
The end was typical of Smith. Maybe the temperament would have been different during an easier situation but Smith is clearly someone who doesn't mind being ugly if it results in his country Australia ending on a triumphant note. Australia might have talented stroke players like Usman Khawaja but Smith once again showed why he is not only the team's best batsman but arguably the world's best.Published 02 Aug 2019, 01:07 IST