Ashes 2019 - The series which has been owned by Steve Smith
We have all heard stories about Sir Donald Bradman. For any cricket fan/cricketer, it is inevitable that he/she would have come across that name at some point. After all, Bradman was the yardstick used to measure the quality of a batsman. His average of 99.94 was always going to make him a hero for years. The New South Wales legend etched his name in cricket's history books forever.
Several years down the line, another Aussie batsman from New South Wales is playing like a man possessed, Bradman possessed. It is none other than the #1 ranked Test batsman Steve Smith who refuses to budge, to fail, to stop breaking records and be anything other than the very best.
In the ongoing Ashes series, not much needs to be said about how dominant Steve Smith has been. Smith has played two innings lesser and still has 262 runs more than Ben Stokes, who is the second-highest run-scorer at this moment. It might be an unbelievable stat to possess for most batsmen in the world but not for Steve Smith. After all, Smith has been producing such numbers at an insane rate without even breaking a sweat.
Since 2014, the 30-year-old has scored 4165 runs at a Bradmenesque average of 94.65 in the 1st innings of Test matches. This stat not only reveals his ability to set up matches for his team but also his insatiable hunger of runs. The fact that Smith has more hundreds than fifties (26 hundreds and 25 fifties) in his Test career also stands as a testament for this quality.
Many people who have been associated are close with Smith have also regularly spoken about how Smith loves to keep batting in the nets. It is almost as if one has to pull Smith out of a net session.
While Smith scores truckload of runs, he definitely doesn't make it look easy. His batting is quirky, unorthodox, fidgety and what not. In fact, commentator Nasser Hussain even expressed what many a cricket fan would have pondered upon for ages.
You won't find Smith's technique in any coaching manual. One can teach his style to budding kids. It is natural and unique for Smith alone. But he is still a great and also a genius. All said and done, such extraordinary people or even cricketers carry their own peculiar trait. Sir Viv Richards' audacity and swagger, Lasith Malinga's action that almost shaves off the umpire's head or Muttiah Muralitharan's finger-spin bowling where the wrist played a major part.
Experts and fans have started to say that even if Smith retires immediately, he will have already attained legendary status. The numbers also back such lofty claims.
At this moment, Smith averages 64.55 after playing 121 innings (67 Tests). This puts him just below the great Don Bradman in terms of best career batting averages. This situation is all the more remarkable when one thinks about all the events that panned out after the Cape Town Test match last year.
Caught in the ball-tampering scandal, Smith along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were banned for one year (Six months for Bancroft). Smith, the No. 1 batsman in Test cricket before that series against South Africa not only found himself losing one of his prime years but also his numero uno tag.
When Smith made his comeback at the highest level, he was naturally rusty. The same batsman who was regarded as the best Test batsman scratched for runs like how a club cricketer would do during his stint in the Global T20 Canada and even during certain knocks in the BPL.
Smith's batting looked even worse during his first net session back with the Australian team. He was hurried by Mitchell Starc's pace and this meant that many people wondered whether the talented batsman will ever get back to his best. However, they also forgot the fact that even the best will take time to get back to his best after a long time off. Also, T20s and ODIs have never been his go-to format.
Even though there were glimpses of Smith returning to form during the World Cup, it was always evident that Test cricket would be the only format that would bring back his best. It is some interesting affinity. It is a rather strange love story between the longest format and Smith. Like touched upon previously, his technique is so unorthodox. Still, it is good enough to withstand a green mamba or a dustbowl with utmost confidence.
That hand-eye coordination, that incredible hunger to score runs is what makes him special and also stand tall among the rest. Before this series, for a year, it looked like Virat Kohli had transformed himself as the best batsman in the world. The Indian skipper kept on piling runs wherever he went. He even conquered England in a way after enduring a poor series in 2014. Yet, when once Smith came back, he asserted his dominance in a way only he can.
When one thought his leading twin hundreds at Birmingham were unmatchable, he continued on his merry run at Lord's until one of Jofra Archer's scary bouncers ensured that the Australian was left concussed. Consequently, Smith missed the third Test. This started off a war of words of sorts when Smith said, “There’s been a bit of talk that he’s got the wood over me, but he hasn’t got me out.”
Jofra wasn't one to keep quiet and gave a reply on his own. “Well, I can’t get him out if he wasn’t there,” Archer said.
This acted as a brilliant prelude for the fourth Test at Old Trafford and Smith answered in the best way possible. He came up with a flawless 211 while Archer went wicketless in his 27 overs. Smith won a battle and it wasn't surprising either.
Make no mistake, Kohli should also end up being an all format, all-time great by the end of his career if he is already not. But Smith will keep on banging the door and raising the standards in Test cricket.
To conclude, let us enjoy this incredible era which is filled with outrageous talents, enjoy Smith in equal measure as such players only prop up once in a generation.