Steve Smith’s incredible last few seasons have him threatening to displace Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting as the next best Aussie batsman since Don Bradman.
He still has not come up with an equivalent of Ricky Ponting’s 156 at Old Trafford in 2005, but his century against Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja on a raging turner at Pune must come close.
This is a career involving a run machine with an unorthodox technique that everyone mocked, one shouldered with the captaincy at a young age, and having been burdened with crisis moments such as the Hobart game last year.
The similarities with Graeme Smith are startling and perhaps this is a reminder of the danger that lies ahead for Steve Smith to avoid his career declining like his South African namesake.
It is granted that G.Smith was not as versatile a cricketer as S.Smith in terms of adaptability to other formats and fielding ability, but both Smiths gained the captaincy at a young age and the manner in which they are able to grit out runs when the going is tough, along with cashing in when the conditions are in their favour is remarkable.
The way they are able to get under the oppositions’ skin and intelligently use their fiery respective bowling attacks, has been a trademark of their captaincy. While everyone was surprised at Steve O Keefe’s relative success against India under S.Smith this year, it still beggars my belief how Paul Harris was able to consistently tie down batsmen such as Sahin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
That wouldn’t have been possible without the astute leadership of G.Smith. A check at their stats each at the same age of 28 of which S.Smith will turn in June reveals some similarity.
We see that G.Smith had a record of 6342 runs at an average of 50.33 while Steve Smith’s is 5251 @ 61.05 with G.Smith’s lower averages a reminder of how opening batsmen have it more difficult against the new ball, especially in South Africa, England and Australia.
S.Smith is arguably just that little class above, with a better all-round record in overseas conditions but he still has not had the chance to lead his country to a fourth innings run-chase as G.Smith did in Birmingham or Perth in 2008.
As seen from these stats for G.Smith between 2011 to 2014, his output and consistency decreased.
So where did it go wrong as he passed his 30s? While his captaincy was still strong thanks to the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn ,his batting form declined to the level where he will be remembered in a similar manner to Michael Clarke or Kevin Pietersen as a player of great innings rather than a great player.
The first reason is fairly objective, in that he would have been tied down by the complex selection politics that are so unique to South Africa while his heavy frame would have put his body under huge stress, leading to injuries and a premature retirement at the age of 33.
When one looks at this, captaining over 100 Tests is quite an achievement. While Steve Smith’s body has been able to cope with the heavy demands of balancing three forms of the game, the relentless Australian media and unforgiving fans do pose a threat to burnout, even if it is not at the same level as South African politics.
Kane Williamson of New Zealand will simply not have this worry about the media in his country. The second point to explain G.Smith’s decline is slightly more subjective, but perhaps it is that when having such an unusual technique and relying on a good-eye, the minute reflexes slow down as one passes their prime in their early 30s, run scoring becomes much harder.
Players like Kallis, Tendulkar and Steve Waugh were still able to maintain their standards in their mid-to-late 30s because of the strength of their techniques and this is why I believe Williamson and Joe Root will still play well when past their prime.
However, there is the prospect of S Smith’s run-scoring habits declining once his reflexes slow down if the case of G.Smith, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Peterson is to go by. Once past the magical period from 27-32, these players were not able to maintain their performances at international level.
There is the serious possibility that S.Smith may have already passed 10,000 runs before his ‘eye’ goes. His continuous record of proving everyone wrong, could dispel this ‘eye-myth’ that I have brought up as he continues to torment other international teams for a long time.