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How Chennai ODI highlighted Steve Smith's shortcomings in 20-over cricket

425   //    20 Sep 2017, 20:41 IST

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The latest clash between India and Australia, which took place on Sunday at Chennai, was particularly ironic for the Australian captain Steven Smith. Though the game was a One Day international, due to rain stoppages, Australia’s innings was reduced to a virtual T20 one.

In reply to India’s 281, Australia’s target was revised to 164 in 21 overs according to the D/L method. Having been troubled by rain throughout the Champions trophy, Australia must have feared another washout. However, the revised target, thought by many to be in Australia’s favour, proved to be their undoing. On a pitch where batsmen needed time to settle, the Australians were forced to accelerate from the get-go and as a result, panic set in.

This turn of events was particularly unfortunate for Steven Smith. His horrendous shot in a bid to accelerate started the slide. He is a batsman who needs time to build an innings, however, of late he has been also finding it difficult to pierce gaps and keep the scoreboard ticking. His numbers in the shortest format are hardly encouraging.

In 2016, in 8 innings he accumulated 173 runs with a paltry average of 24.71 at a strike rate of 122.69. These stats are in tune with his overall average of 21.55 at a strike rate of 122.44.

In T20, a strike rate of 120 is considered to be a minimum to even be in the reckoning. In the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League, where he played for the Rising Pune Supergiant, his numbers are slightly better. Across 15 matches, he averaged 39.33 but at a strike rate of 121.96.

Rahul Tripathi’s explosive starts at the top of the innings provided a lot of cushion for Smith and Dhoni to bat at their normal strike rates. It can be argued that the openers Finch and Warner provide similar sort of firepower for Australia and there’s always place for a sheet anchor type of batsman in T20 cricket. However, Smith’s numbers belie the above claims. He has scored only two 50s and zero 100s in 30 T20I. More often than not, an innings worth 30-40 runs at a strike of 120 turns out to be a match-losing one.

For any other batsman, with these figures, his position would be untenable. By virtue of being the captain, perhaps they are being overlooked. Smith would do well to take a leaf from the former English Captain, Alastair Cook's book.

Cook, like Smith, was a captain who led by example. As soon as his batting suffered, it affected his captaincy too. It became a vicious cycle. By relinquishing his captaincy, it's hoped that Cook will go back to his daddy-hundred hitting days. Similarly, for a batsman of Smith's calibre, finding a way to crack the T20 code should not be too difficult. By handing over the captaincy to Warner, who has already proved his mettle at the IPL, Steve Smith would be free to improve his T20 record and help Australia at the same time.

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