Steve Smith's celebration after reaching his 27th Test hundred at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) comprised less of passion and more a palpable sense of relief.
It was like a long lost child who had returned to his mother's arms, a wanderer who had found his destination. This is the Steve Smith we all know, the Steve Smith that was lost somewhere.
Steve Smith's unexpected slump in the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Series
Going into the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Steve Smith had a phenomenal average of 84.05 against Indian, having scored 1429 runs in ten Tests while amassing seven centuries. However, despite such fearsome a reputation, the Aussie star was restricted to just ten runs in the first four innings of the ongoing series.
Team India had pulled off a heist by strangling Steve Smith with a 'leg-side trap', something that led to his undoing on two of the three occasions that he was dismissed.
People started claiming that off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had made Australia's best batsman his bunny, having dismissed the player twice already in the two Tests.
For a batsman who was adjudged the ICC Men's Test Cricketer of the Decade, this perception was an incorrect one, and Steve Smith had to correct it. He knew he had to believe in himself and come out all guns blazing and silence the naysayers. For someone who berated himself whenever he got a low score, this was a huge obstacle to overcome.
However, Steve Smith was returning to his home ground, where it all began for him. He was returning to a place that made him fall in love with the game. Thus, all the stars were aligned for Steve Smith to remind everyone why he is regarded as one of the modern-day greats.
Steve Smith's redemption at the SCG
In an emphatic manner, the 31-year-old silenced his critics by smashing an outstanding hundred, offering the visitors little chance till the moment he got out.
Right from the moment he walked out to bat, there was determination in his eyes and steely resolve in his stride. He dictated terms to the opposition and dominated them, something that has been the hallmark of Steve Smith over the years.
What makes the SCG such a happy hunting ground for Steve Smith? How has his performance been at this venue? How does he feel when he walks out to bat at a ground that has been his 'home' right from his early days? Perhaps, Steve Smith had to rediscover his mojo at the SCG, and he did so in his own inimitable style.
Steve Smith's evolution in international cricket
Rising up the ranks in Australian domestic cricket, Steve Smith played for New South Wales and was destined to be the 'next Shane Warne'. The right-hander made his international debut in all three formats of the game in 2010 as a leg-spinner who could bat a bit. However, destiny had something else in store for him.
Slowly but surely, Steve Smith's bowling took a backseat, as the player realised that he needed to score heavily in domestic cricket to be in the reckoning for a place in the Australian team. He returned to the national side as a middle-order batsman, and in 2013, scored his maiden Test hundred against England at The Oval.
There would be no looking back for Steve Smith from there.
It was a precursor of things to come. However, inconsistency threatened to jeopardise his place in the Australian playing XI. Just when the chips were down, the SCG came to the rescue of the right-hander.
Steve Smith's fabulous Test record at the SCG
Against England in the 2014 Ashes Test at the SCG, Australia were in deep trouble at 97-5. However, Steve Smith strung a fine partnership with wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to ensure that the hosts reached a competitive first-innings total of 326.
Smith smashed 115 runs, including 17 fours and a six, making optimum use of the familiarity of his home conditions. That marked the beginning of Steve Smith as a potential giant of Australian cricket.
Less than a year later, Steve Smith was in imperious form. The 31-year-old scored four hundreds in the 2014-15 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, with one of them coming at the SCG, where he was adjudged the Man of the Match.
Six years later, Steve Smith recorded his third Test hundred at his happy hunting ground - an imperious innings of 131 against India.
In just eight Tests at the SCG, Steve Smith has conjured 742 runs, doing so at a mind-boggling average of 74.20, which is better than his career average of 61.91. Steve Smith averages a Bradmanesque 106.33 against India at the SCG.
Steve Smith's ODI record at the SCG
Largely considered as an all-rounder for large swathes during his early days, Steve Smith had batting numbers in ODis that are understandably not as impressive as that in Tests. However, Smith has played some of his most memorable ODI innings at the SCG.
He scored his first ODI hundred at the ground in the all-important ICC 2015 World Cup semi-final against tournament favourites India. He dominated the Indian bowlers that day and was instrumental in Australia going on to win the World Cup.
His next ODI ton at this ground came during the 2016 series against New Zealand, where he played a chanceless knock of 164, his highest one-day score. In the process, Steve Smith equalled Ricky Ponting's record of the highest score made by an Australian captain in ODIs.
Steve Smith did not have the greatest of starts to cricket in 2020, as he had a quiet tour of South Africa. A concussion blow during the ODI series against England meant that he missed all three games. He didn't have a great impact in the T20I series either.
That was followed by an underwhelming IPL 2020 campaign, where Steve Smith looked terribly out of sorts. He admitted that it was 'difficult' for him to find the right way to grip his bat. However, when all seemed doomed, his home ground came to his rescue yet again.
Before the start of the first ODI between Australia and India at the SCG last year, Steve Smith revealed that he had 'found his hands' during a practice session.
He soon became the third-fastest Australian to score an ODI hundred when he bagged centuries in the first two ODIs at the SCG, doing so off just 62 balls on both occasions.
In ODIs at the SCG, Steve Smith averages 60.64 compared to his career average of 43.34. He has scored 849 runs, a tally that includes four hundreds, in 15 ODIs at this ground.
How SCG helped Steve Smith through his 'darkest hour'
Having achieved a plethora of highs at the SCG, Steve Smith's home ground served as the lone source of inspiration during his darkest period as a cricketer.
After being banned for a year and getting stripped off the Australian captaincy for being involved in an infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, Steve Smith had hit rock bottom. He didn't know whether he had it in him to ever pick up a bat again. However, the SCG was his inspiration, as he moved to a new residence that was closer to his home ground.
Smith put in the hard yards and practiced at the SCG during his time away from the game. He rediscovered a reason to play cricket again and successfully made a comeback to the Australian team. From a national villain, Smith turned into a hero, playing a key role in Australia retaining the Ashes in 2019 following a drawn series in England.
Thus, Steve Smith's association with the SCG has been nothing short of a fairytale. The ground has seen him through the best and worst of times and undoubtedly holds a special pride of place for the player.Published 09 Jan 2021, 02:11 IST