Steve Smith - An Atypical Legend

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Usually, when a leg spinner who can give the ball a fair bit of turn rises up the ranks in Australia, it's almost irresistible to not hope for the next Shane Warne. That's the crux here - you may or may not think of Warne but you definitely won't think of him becoming the next Don Bradman. This has become quintessential of Steven Smith over the last few years - becoming what no one expects him to become.

Best in the Business

Turned 31 this week, Smith is nothing short of a modern-day legend. Ask a fan about the best batsman of the present generation and you are inciting a debate. Ask about the best test-batsman and there isn’t any space for contention. 7227 test runs with an astonishing average of 62.8 and 60 in away matches are simply unmatchable. Most of his 3 double-tons and 26 centuries have come at crucial stages against the toughest of the bowling attacks.

There’s no more non-textbook batsman in the world and there’s no one more difficult to bowl to than Steve Smith. His method of harnessing runs can frustrate the best of bowlers. Seeing his enormous back lift any fast bowler could be forgiven for thinking that they might sneak one past his bat, however, Smith just thumps him down the ground for four with ease. If a bowler packs the off-side field, Smith just shuffles across his stumps in a flash and delectably flicks him past mid-wicket.

Smith’s team-mates have been – more often than not – left stupefied with his hands not leaving his cricket bat. He practices his drives and flicks in his bedroom, in the gym, and even when he is not wielding his tool (like in a party with the teammate Nathan Lyon), he shadow bats! To answer Cricket’s most clichéd cliché – if you want someone to bat for your life then here is a guy who will actually take the opportunity with both his hands.    

Leg Spinner

It was the 2007-08 season when Smith made his debut in the Australian domestic season. He was celebrated to give the ball a fair rip and could generate significant turn as a leg spinner. His boyish charm and scuttling run-up rekindled the memories of the once-in-a-generation spinning legend.

Shane Warne retired in 2007 after amassing over 1000 international wickets and buttressing the pace-heavy Australian line-up with his leggies for over 15 years. His iconic duos with bowlers like McGrath and then prominent contributions as a tail-ender with the bat were too fabled to forget for the Australians.Smith’s selection in the National Team was more about filling the huge void than his own ability as a bowler.

His nascent career thus was all about supporting the fast-bowlers with his turners, picking a wicket or two, and batting at 7 or 8 to contribute those invaluable runs for his team. It was only in 2013 when Michael Clarke gave leg-spinner Smith his first real chance as a batsman. He was asked to bat at number 5 in the Ashes in England where he scored 345 in 10 innings with an average of just over 38. Critiques were dubious, purists more so.

His technique was all over the place, he was after chasing wide balls and frequently edging them to the slips.The cricket fraternity was nothing less than startled to see Australia backing a bowler to bat for them at the crucial number 5 position.Few saw the spunk in him as a batsman and fortunately, the selectors did too. He got his chances and he cashed in on them in the hard way. Small but gritty contributions were incessant as he rose up the ladder, one step at a time.

The Shuffle

In the return Ashes in Australia, Smith proved his batsman-ship for better. In the 3rd Test of the Ashes, with the top 3 back in the hut, Australian innings was a dead duck, especially with Smith struggling, and an out of form George Bailey, it looked like Australia won’t even get the par score at the W.A.C.A. It was here that Smith decided to do something, which would go on to confuse every bowler in upcoming years.

He took a leg guard and walked towards the off stump every time the bowler was about to hit his stride. This continued for the next 207 balls before he edged one off James Anderson. However, in the process, he had scored a much-needed ton with the help of that huge shuffle across the stumps and had left everyone goggle-eyed.

The shuffle didn’t assuage the doubts of the pundits of the game but it was a technique that worked for him and continues to do so. He still manages to have the most powerful leg side game in the world – taking nothing away from those animated but immaculate cover drives. As in the game’s parlance – bowl on 4th stump, 5th stump or even the 16th, if there is any and he’ll still hit you for four over midwicket (or square-leg).

Quick fifties, slow hundreds, absorbing pressure, transferring pressure to the opposition, since that day, Smith has gleaned every trick to his repertoire. Since that series, after getting his favorable positions in all formats he has just never looked back. Mountain of runs against India in 2014, highest run-scorer in the 2015 World Cup, an all odds-defying hundred in Pune in 2016, consecutive centuries in Ashes 2017 he conquered it all before the sandpaper-saga struck his precipitous rise.

A Comeback for the Ages

It was a 16-month long hiatus, the crowd was booing every time he stepped on the field – he still scored back to back hundreds against his team’s most fierce opponents at their home.Then there was a Jofra Archer bouncer that hit him right on the head, he got substituted for concussion, was even left out for a match – he came back and made 211 in a team total of 497/8 and capitulated to the heights rarely seen in the game of cricket.

After his return to the top-tier of test cricket, Smith’s scorecard read - 144, 142, 92, and 211. That's 589 runs at an average of 147.25. In the process, he became the only batsman to have scored more than 500 runs in 3 consecutive Ashes series - 508 runs in 2015 Ashes in England and 687 runs in the 2017-18 home Ashes before the aforementioned.

Sir Bradman scored 500-plus runs in 5 series, but even he couldn't achieve the feat thrice in a row, not even in his purple. Smith made sure that when we were searching for a new Sachin Tendulkar in Virat Kohli a new Donald Bradman was shattering the batting records.

During the Ashes in England the guard at St John's Wood station made an announcement as fans alighted for the Lord's Test : “Anyone who knows how to dismiss Steve Smith, please revert back to the England dressing room" News is that they are still accepting answers if any.

Written by - Rudransh Khurana

Edited by - Arnav Mehra

Steve Smith - An Atypical Legend Steve Smith - An Atypical Legend Reviewed by Arnav Mehra on June 21, 2020 Rating: 5

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