Steve Smith - The complete saga of class and passion

Steve Smith – The complete saga of class and passion

Beware India, batting maestro Steve Smith is well and truly back!

Steve Smith
Steve Smith. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

Coming into the Third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground(SCG), Steve Smith was under pressure. He had failed to trouble the scorers much, and in the first two Tests put together, the Australian batting maestro had managed to aggregate just 10 runs. And, Ravichandran Ashwin was proving to be his nemesis.

Smith entered the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 7th 2021, with Australia having lost debutant Will Pucovski for a well made 62. When Smith walked out at the SCG, there would have been considerable pressure on his shoulders. He was Australia’s batting talisman, and had not been amongst the runs in the series.

How would Smith react? Would he step up to the challenge and thwart the charge of the Indian attack?

The Steve Smith special

One thing that was good to see from Smith, was the fact that he did not go into a shell. In fact, when Jasprit Bumrah bowled a full-length delivery, Smith got onto the front foot and drove the pacer majestically down the ground for a boundary. Navdeep Saini was dealt with a similar treatment, with the Australian No.4 driving him past mid on for his second boundary.

And now, came the contest. Ravichandran Ashwin got the ball in his hand, with the Indian spinner trying to get on top yet again. How would Smith counter Ashwin?

The wily Indian spinner, with almost a decade of experience under his belt operated to Smith with a strong leg side field. Ashwin tossed the ball up to Smith, inviting him to take on the bowling. Smith accepted the invitation, brought his strong wrists into play and whipped the cherry past mid-wicket for the boundary. Again, when Ashwin tossed the ball up, the batting maestro did not hold himself back. He danced down the track, and deposited the off-spinner over mid-on for another boundary. Smith was winning the battle this time, he was willing to take the fight to his nemesis and not get bogged down.

The batting maestro got to his half-century with another of his classic straight drives down the ground. And guess what, it was off the bowling of Ashwin. Another striking feature of Smith’s innings was the fact that he was surely getting into his ‘zone’, he was getting into his own world, where nothing else that happened around him mattered.

He was speaking to himself, there was the adjustment of his crotch, and all his weird mannerisms were on full display for the world to see. And, that meant that Smith was in for a big one, and it would be difficult for India to take him out of that ‘zone’.

Wickets tumbled at the other end but Steve Smith kept fighting

And then, came the moment that Smith and probably the whole of Australia was waiting for. With Smith batting on 99, Navdeep Saini bowled a loosener on his pads. The Aussie flicked the cherry past square leg for three runs, and completed a hundred that would stay with him and the rest of Australia for a long time. He punched the air twice in delight, and acknowledged the reception from the crowd. The batting icon scored a flawless 131, and helped the kangaroos to post a challenging total of 338 runs on the board.

Justin Langer’s warning proves true

Ahead of the third Test against the visitors, Australian Head Coach Justin Langer had already warned India that a Steve Smith special might be on the way. Let us now go into what Langer exactly said about the batting champion.

My gosh, what I know about great players, the longer they miss out, the sooner they are coming good again,” Langer had said.

Yes, the more they are pressed against the wall, the harder champions bounce back. It was true of Sachin Tendulkar. It was true of Ricky Ponting. It was true of Brian Lara. It was true of Virat Kohli. And surely, it is true with Steve Smith as well.

Steve Smith’s rough ride and his return to form

In the table below, let us have a look at Smith’s performances on a year-on-year basis in the last 8 years (including 2021).

Year Innings Runs Average 100s
2014 17 1146 81.86 5
2015 24 1474 73.70 6
2016 18 1079 71.93 4
2017 20 1305 76.76 6
2018 7 225 32.14 0
2019 13 965 74.23 3
2020 5 73 18.25 0
2021 1 131 131.00 1

From the above table, we can see that Smith’s numbers in 2020 stick out as an anomaly. The Aussie batting great averaged just 18.25 in the five innings that he played last year. In fact, even his 2019 exploits need to be delved into further to get a clearer picture as to how Smith was slowly going into a downward spiral even as 2019 drew to a close. In fact, his scores in his last 12 Test innings (not including the 131 against India in the first Test of 2021) read 23,4,36,43,16,85,7,63,1,1*,0 and 8.

That is, out of his last 12 Test innings (before the SCG hundred), Smith had 9 scores less than 40. It was an indication that the law of averages were slowly getting to work here.

Smith rebounds like a champion

But then, Smith has returned with a bang in the New Year’s Test in Sydney. And, it is the circumstances in which the hundred was scored that makes Smith the champion that he is. Australia were thrashed in their previous game at the MCG, Smith had scored in single digits in both the innings of the Melbourne Test, there were question marks raised about his form, and the hosts desperately needed him to step up.

And needless to say, that is exactly what Smith has done. For, he is a champion of the modern era, and a champion who belongs to a rare breed. Beware India, the maestro is well and truly back!