Steve Smith is a great batsman. Will he become a great captain?

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By , Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Steve Smith is a great batsman. That is undeniable.

    If his career was to end tomorrow his record would stand up favourably against the best of all-time.

    His 51 Tests have produced 4888 runs at an average of 60.3.

    His 18 centuries have come at a rate of one every 2.8 Tests – compared to Virat Kohli (3.4), Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara (3.9), Ricky Ponting (4.1) and AB de Villiers (5.0).

    He averages 68.6 in Australia and 54.0 off shore.

    Not a bad record for a man who debuted at number eight in the batting order, having been selected primarily for his leg-spin bowling.

    In his 21 Tests as skipper he has scored 2348 at 73.4, and amassed ten centuries.

    It is a record that any player would be proud of.

    At the age of 27, he has many years to further add to his batting CV.

    As things stand, it would appear he also has many years ahead of him as Australian Test captain.

    Steve Smith celebrates a run out

    He made a dream start to the captaincy, his first 11 matches at the helm yielded seven wins and four draws.

    His next five matches resulted in losses – a whitewash in Sri Lanka last year and two losses to start the summer against South Africa.

    The second of those losses against the Proteas was a modern-day nadir for the Australian side.

    Smith’s men lost by an innings and 80 runs at Hobart on the back of being dismissed for 85 in the first innings.

    For his part, the skipper scored 48, the only batsman to exceed ten runs.

    Australia’s second innings effort was similarly uninspiring with yet another calamitous collapse.

    The Hobart loss cut deep with Smith. In fact, it was a line in the sand moment.

    In the wake of that defeat, Smith delivered the most powerful media conference of his captaincy career.

    “I’m embarrassed to be sitting here to be honest with you”, he said.

    “Too many times we’ve lost wickets in clumps, 8-32 today, 10-85 in the first innings … it’s happening way too consistently for my liking.

    “We’re not being resilient, we’re not willing to tough it out and get through tough periods. Right now, it’s not good enough. I’m hurting.

    “I need players that are willing to get in the contest and get in the battle and have some pride in playing for Australia and pride in the baggy green. That’s what I need.

    “At the moment, it’s not good enough and I’m sick of saying it to be honest with you. It’s happened five Tests in a row.”

    Smith’s words, and the tone in which they were delivered, were just what was required at the time.

    It was honest. It was direct. It was coming from a man who was repeatedly upholding his end of the bargain only to be let down by his teammates.

    They were comments that are seldom heard nowadays.

    Australian skipper Steve Smith is destined for greatness. (AAP Image/Carol Cho)

    Too often we hear tokenism and platitudes from our sporting captains when their respective sides are wallowing.

    We hear how the team is working hard, how things will turnaround, how you just need to have faith.

    Smith did not mince his words. He was angry and he wanted all and sundry to know it.
    From that point forward he largely got his wish.

    The personnel were altered. In some people’s eyes the changes immediately after the Hobart defeat were too dramatic – five substitutions were made for Adelaide, including the dropping of Callum Ferguson and Joe Mennie after they had played just the one Test.

    The wholesale changes bore fruit. Australia trounced the Proteas at Adelaide and swept aside Pakistan 3-0.

    And then there was Pune, a high watermark that made the humiliation of Hobart seem like a distant memory.

    Again, Smith was to the fore. His second innings 109 was hailed by Darren Lehmann as his finest century.

    It set the tone for the series and stamped his authority on it early on.

    The tourists then surged to victory on the back of Steve O’Keefe’s 12-70.

    One of the areas where Smith’s leadership has come under scrutiny has been the use of his spinners, particularly Nathan Lyon.

    Through Sri Lanka and early in the Australian summer, Smith appeared to lack confidence in his offie.

    Shane Warne, and others, were critical of him regarding the way Lyon was utilised in the opening Test against South Africa at Perth.

    In the back half of the Australian summer the skipper seemed to have regained faith in Lyon.

    At Pune, he bowled beautifully, while O’Keefe reaped the major awards.

    One thing is beyond dispute and that is the fact that Smith leads from the front.

    His performance with the bat since ascending to the captaincy has been phenomenal. It has been truly a case of leading by example.

    His performances at the crease have given him a position of strength from which he can make demands on his charges.

    Currently, he is leading a team that is full of confidence.

    A series victory in India, or indeed a draw which would see Australia retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, would be an enormous feather in Smith’s cap.

    There are still question marks over certain personnel in the current side, but likewise, there are several standout stories that have come to the fore in recent months.

    The nascent international careers of Peter Handscomb and Matthew Renshaw point to both making significant contributions in the years ahead.

    The performance of O’Keefe at Pune significantly adds to Australia’s spin stocks, while the pace bowling arsenal looks as bright as it has been for quite some time.

    Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are one of the finest new ball partnerships in the game.

    Behind them are Jackson Bird, the returning Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, and the yet to be tried but extremely capable Chadd Sayers and Jason Behrendorff.

    Many a skipper has profited on the back of a lethal pace bowling attack.

    Steve Smith has shown marked development in his leadership skills and qualities in recent months.

    He has this series to conclude and a home Ashes series next summer. Should he secure both his standing in the game will further escalate.

    Many believe Mark Taylor, with a 52 per cent win record, and Michael Clarke (51) to be the most tactically astute skippers that Australia has had in recent times.

    Smith’s current win percentage is 57.

    In recent times, he has been accorded the opportunity to mould a team to his own liking.

    It is certainly reaping benefits.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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