Steve Smith is bound for greatness

Date: December 8, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

If he was to retire today, Steve Smith’s career would stack up favourably against anybody. But, at 27 years of age and in the prime of his career, he is a long way from finished and by the time he is he will sit amongst the highest echelon of the sport.

Much has changed since his Test debut against Pakistan at Lord’s in July 2010. In that series, he was chosen as a leg-spinner, batting at number eight. He scored 1 & 12 in his maiden outing and captured 3-51.

He held his place for the second Test at Leeds where he made 10 & 77 and returned bowling figures of 0-31.

He played a further three Tests in the subsequent Australian summer.

After five matches he was dropped, having not added to the three wickets from his debut match and having averaged 28.8 with the bat.

Smith spent 26 months out of the Test side prior to being recalled for the tour to India in March 2013.

Despite a modest return in the Sheffield Shield that domestic summer he was identified by the selectors as being a batsman who would cope well in the spin friendly conditions, a perennial Achilles heel for Australian squads to India.

The tour was a disaster with Australia being swept 4-0, its worst performance on the sub-continent.

Smith sat out the first two Tests but was recalled for the infamous ‘Homework Gate’ match at Mohali, scoring 92 & 5. In the final Test at Delhi he made 46 & 18.

He was retained for the subsequent Ashes in England, finishing the series with an unbeaten 138 at The Oval, his maiden Test century.

In the return series of 2013-14 he scored centuries at Perth and Sydney and was responsible for rescuing Australia from parlous positions on both occasions. Another ton in the first Test against South Africa at Centurion in February 2014 gave Smith four centuries in seven Tests.

Since then there has been no turning back.

The 2014-15 summer against India was a pivotal one in Smith’s career.

It started with the tragic death of Phillip Hughes and ended with him captaining the Australian Test team.

In the first Test at Adelaide he made 162no. With Michael Clarke succumbing to injury during the match, Smith led the side for the remainder of the series.

He made a century in each of three remaining Tests – 133, 192 and 117 – to finish the series with 769 runs at 128.2.

With Clarke retiring after the successful World Cup campaign in March 2015, Smith took over the captaincy full-time in all three forms of the game.

In 17 Tests as skipper, he has scored seven centuries and averaged 68.1. His 47-Tests to date have produced 15 centuries and an average of 57.5.

Only Don Bradman (99.94) and Adam Voges (61.9) average higher for those to have played 20 Test innings. Globally, only ten players have had a higher career average.

One of Smith’s strengths is the fact he is an all-pitch player, able to score in varied conditions. He averages 63.3 at home and 57.6 away.

His explosive 164 in the ODI against New Zealand at the SGG on Sunday was his highest one-day score.

In 89 one-day appearances he has peeled off seven centuries and averaged 43.6. Only six Australian players have recorded a better average. His ODI strike rate of 88 underlines the speed with which he compiles his runs.

By far the weakest of Smith’s three formats is T20. In 30 internationals he averages 21.6 but there is plenty of time for him to improve that figure.

Smith possesses a technique that would never be coached.

Former England off-spinner Graeme Swann said he would be undone by his technique in the 2015 Ashes series. He went on to average 56.4.

Before he takes strike, there are more movements than a Swiss watch factory – taps of the helmet, bending of the knees, rearrangement of his box, pad adjustments and glove fiddling. Finally, he is ready to face the ball. He leans slightly forward in his stance with his level and his wrists cocked putting his bat above the horizontal.

Then there is the exorbitant lateral shuffle to the off side. Many coaches frown on such a movement as they believe it is hard to replicate precisely each time and can therefore confuse a batsman as to where his off stump is.

But for Smith, the confusion often lies with the bowler.

Balls on off-stump, and sometimes outside, are routinely worked for runs through the led side.

The exaggerated lateral movement sees bowlers often attacking a line a couple of stumps width outside off however Smith is less prone to fiddle at them as he knows he has completely covered his off stump.

During his mammoth home series against India the opposition took to trying to remove him down the leg side by redirecting their line and operating with a leg slip and leg gully. It was tantamount to a captain and team running out of orthodox methods with which to dismiss him.

Smith’s greatest test may come when he has a protracted period of poor form but as yet we have not seen one.

Since 1 January 2014, he has played 31 Tests and scored 3341 runs at 71.1, with 13 centuries.

With perhaps another eight years left in his career and a possible 80 Tests in that time he could go close to 12,000 Test runs.

And that will be quite some achievement.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 8 December 2016, soliciting 25 comments