Steve Smith’s rise the real triumph for Australia

 

 Steven smith

By Gaurav Joshi

The Indian Test tour 14 months ago was tumultuous on and off the field. The four nil drubbing signified the drop in Australian cricket standards. The outcry from various corners of the world was Australia cricket had reached bottom of the barrel and needed to scrape that same barrel to produce an upcoming Test batsmen.

Twelve months on, not only is Australia ranked the number one team but importantly they have unearthed prospering Test match batsmen. A task that seemed as improbable as Australia was winless during the exasperating period between February and September last year.

Steve Smith rise in the past twelve months might seem like gradual as his current Test average hovers around 40 but in the context of Australia’s demand for batsmen it has been swift.

Smith had played five Tests before he was picked in the starting eleven due to the homework saga in Mohali during the 3rd Test. It was a turbulent time, the captain and the vice captain were supposedly in different corners while the coaching methods employed were that of a business module out of an MBA text book. It felt there was no way out for Australian cricket.

It was certainly not an ideal situation to return to Test cricket. As if that was not bad enough Smith was reminded at the press conference about his throw that narrowly missed the stumps but went for five overthrows to grant India a one wicket win at the same venue two years ago.

To Smith’s credit he answered bravely and on the following day showcased his ability with the bat against the turning ball. The pitch wasn’t a rank turner but walking in to bat when you have seen Australia’s captain walk straight past the first ball he faced, adds to the nerves but Smith was not to be deterred. He passed the test with flying colours scoring a mature, determined and patient 92. It was Smith’s first innings for Australia since taking the advice of his state coaches to concentrate solely on his batting and try to mould as a batsmen than a genuine all rounder.

The transition started only 12 months prior for his state NSW where Smith batted at number four for majority of the season. While the stats didn’t back his promotion it was his timely innings on a sub-continental pitch at Blacktown Oval against Western Australia that made the selectors pick him for the Indian tour.

His quick footwork against spinners ensured Smith was Australia’s best player of spin after Michael Clarke. Smith ended up 161 runs from two final Test matches, most amongst the Australian batsmen. The 46 he scored in Delhi was great knock and as worthy as his 92 in the 3rd Test, given only two fifties were scored on either sides on crumbling pitch.  It was enough to secure him a place in the Ashes squad.

The spin test had been conquered now Smith has to overcome the challenge of the swinging ball. In the first innings at Edgbaston the signs were promising. Smith showcased a fine technique to score a gritty determined 53, it wasn’t an innings to make headlines but the way Smith handled James Anderson on a gloomy and overcast day was a further glimpse of the revamped Steve Smith.

 

It was mental win for Smith because in the 2010/11 Ashes at home, Smith left his bat hanging like a washing on the line and the ball kept kissing the outside or the inside edge. Throughout that summer he was made to look like a boy playing against grown men.

But in that 1st innings in Edgbaston the key to smith innings was the way he left the ball. Rarely was a beaten by Anderson banana like outswinger and when the Englishmen set him up for the in swinger, he played it late with the pad close to the pad. Smith had also had the shots to score runs but now he had the technique to keep the good balls out.

It was an innings that would have given Smith enormous confidence, the technical deficiency in his game had been eradicated through hard work and his determination to transform into a top order batsmen something his country desperately needed.

The only issue he had in England was he found ways to get out. Bottom edging on to his stumps or caught at deep mid wicket trying to reach his first ton or he was recipient of a couple of inaccurate decisions. Finally his luck turned in the final test and Smith reached his maiden Test hundred.  It was last tick in checklist Smith had set out since turning out in the top order for NSW nearly fifteen months ago.  Technique, patience, confidence, strokes Smith had it all.

Smith batting in Tests didn’t go unnoticed and one of the wise decisions the Australian selector persisted with was not to tinker with his style and persist with him a strict Test match batsmen. They didn’t want Smith to start wafting outside off stump again nor did they want him to get into the mindset of short format of the game. The ideology was Australia needed Smith as a front line test batsmen for Ashes at home. They could ill afford for Smith to lose the touch with the longer format of the game by sending him to India for a seven match ODI series. It turned out to be a master stroke as in the space of next five test matches he proved to his critics he had arrived on the test scene.

The man from the “Shire” may have missed out in the first two tests with the bat but while All the accolades were poured over team mates in Johnson, Haddin, Harris and Clarke, Smith gathered himself to dig Australia out of the doldrums in Perth to score a fine century. Once again the Watson ton in the second innings, along with Haddin resurrection in the first along with Smith were the discussion points as Australia wrapped up the Ashes. Behind the scenes you sensed Smith knew he now belonged in Test cricket.

But Smith was not finished yet. Smith saved his best for the final test in front of his crowd on a pitch that clearly under prepared as the Test match finished inside three days.  In the 10 Ashes Test Smith had accumulated 672 runs at an average of 42 with 3 Test Hundreds.  All the hundreds in were in the first innings and came at point Australia desperately needed a batsmen to stand up.

While Smith might have convinced his team mates, coaching staff and himself many pundits still had the thoughts “lets see how he goes against Steyn, Morkel and Philander”?

In Centurion on a bouncy pitch he batted diligently. The South African wanted him to poke at short wide balls but he resisted. They bowled outside off stump enticing him to play a loose drive but he resisted. Smith left and left and left. It scrambled to fifty and then feasted on the loose balls target at his body or his legs. It was classic example of how to construct a Test innings, something that was a distant dream even for Smith as he tried ever so hard to score a ton for NSW in first class cricket twelve months ago. Now in space of 13 Tests he has 4 Test hundreds, including two nineties. It showcased the dramatic rise in his batsmen ship.

Once again Warner batting and Johnson bowling captured all the headlines as Australia defeated the number one team on their home soil. In Australia 7 wins from eight tests, Smith was overshadowed in each of the wins despite playing watch winning knocks in four of the seven tests.

Johnson, Harris and Haddin might have resurrected Australian cricket in short comings but Steve Smith revelation as a batsmen ensures Australia will be a force going forward.  Australia has unearthed batsmen that can be the backbone of their Test batting line up for a number of years to come.  That itself has perhaps been Australia’s greatest accomplishment in the past twelve months.

 

 

 

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Posted by on May 5 2014. Filed under Australian News, Featured, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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