Boy, the selectors got it right with Steve Smith

Date: December 30, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

SmithTaking pot shots at our national cricket selectors is a common occurrence.

And yes, they do sometimes get it wrong.

However a lot of the time – in fact, most of the time – they get it right and the rebirth and emergence of Steve Smith as a world-class batsman is a very strong example of that.

They deserve to be lauded for the decision they took 22 months ago.

When Smith was chosen to tour India in February last year there were many who derided the decision.

His raw numbers did little to suggest that he should be recalled after a 26-month Test exile.

Smith was a bolter into the Test team in July 2010 when he wore the baggy green for the first time at Lord’s against Pakistan.

He had just turned 21 and he had played only 14 first-class matches.

Intriguingly he was chosen primarily for his bowling even though his numbers with the ball were scant – 29 first-class wickets at an average of 45.6.

His batting, on the other hand, was far more robust statistically with four centuries and an average of 51.2 in first-class ranks.

He debuted at Lord’s at number eight in the batting order and contributed one and 12 while his nascent leg-spinners netted 3-51.

He played the next Test against Pakistan at Leeds and then three against England the following summer before being dropped.

At the time he was left out he averaged 28.8 with the willow and had not added to his three wickets on debut to have career figures of 3-220.

He was only 22.

What then followed in first-class ranks, principally with New South Wales, was nothing exceptional.

In fact, when you consider the batting average (51.2) and bowling average (45.6) he carried into his maiden Test there was little statistical sign of improvement.

Come the time the selectors conducted their telephone hook-up to choose the touring party to India in early 2013 Smith’s first-class batting average had slipped to 41.8 and in the time since his Test debut he had added just one century to give him five in 38 matches.

His bowling – for which he was first chosen – had pretty much been shelved with his average at the time blowing out to 56.5 having claimed only 18 first-class wickets in the two years since his Test debut.

As the selectors pondered the make-up of their Indian tour party Smith was in the middle of the 2012-13 Sheffield Shield season and to that point he had hardly set the world on fire with the bat.

In five games he had scored 296 runs at 37 with a best of 90 against Queensland at Canberra.

The selectors however felt he had the necessary technique to blunt the Indian spinners in their own backyard.

He found himself on the plane but not in the fray early on.

Smith sat out the opening two Tests before getting the call-up for the third match at Mohali, a beneficiary of the ‘Homework-gate’ saga.

He batted at number five and peeled off a Test-best 92 in the first innings with his sparkling footwork to the spinners a feature.

He followed up with 46 and 18 in the last Test at Delhi.

His showing in those two matches secured him a spot on the 2013 Ashes tour.

He kicked off the series with 53 at Trent Bridge.

An innings of 89 in the third Test at Manchester was followed with a maiden century – 138no – in the final Test at The Oval.

And from there … well, it has been nothing but a dream ride.

Six centuries in his last 11 Tests including three in as many matches this summer against India.

The last two of that trio of three-figure scores has come whilst acting captain.

On the first day of this year he had a Test average of 36.6.

It is currently 51.3.

A man once said to possess a technique to porous for Test cricket is his country’s leading run-scorer this calendar year – 1132 runs at 87.1 (with a second innings at the MCG to come).

His technique may not be to the purists liking with a heavy bottom hand although he does possess an old-fashioned stance where his feet are close together rather than the modern-day norm of being splayed apart.

He continues to be a deft and swift mover against spin.

One day he will become the permanent Test captain – when we do not know.

At present he is officially there in a caretaker capacity as Michael Clarke convalesces following hamstring surgery.

Smith has come to his current role as a ‘cleanskin’, having no baggage from any significant on-field issues and having flown blow the radar off the ground.

Steve Smith is here for the long haul at Test level and that is not something many would have said when he boarded the plane to India in February last year.

Cricket is a game of statistics.

Thankfully, the selectors looked beyond the numbers and we, as cricket fans, are reaping the benefit.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 29 December 2014