Smith was right. Just look at the scoreboard

Alec Swann Columnist

By , Alec Swann is a Roar Expert

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    “I was a little bit nervous. On another day I might decide to go another way, but we’ve won the Test match, so it’s irrelevant.”

    Take a wild guess at a) who said this and b) what he was referring to.

    Oh go on, it’s not that difficult and there aren’t any prizes for coming up with the correct answer.

    Yes, you’re spot on, it’s a) Steve Smith and b) the Adelaide non follow-on.

    The decision occupied many a journalists’ column and commentator’s thoughts in the immediate aftermath. This only increased in intensity as Joe Root led the England resistance on the fourth evening of the second Test.

    It wasn’t surprising as every time a captain chooses this path, and especially in cases where it seems to be particularly clear-cut, he will be doubted by many on the outside and often compared to someone who has committed a heinous crime.

    Just a pinch of rationality will tell you a lot of this is nonsense, after all, how can you properly judge a decision that manifests itself in the eventual outcome and not what occurs straight away?

    And this is where the final few words of the aforementioned quote from the Australian captain provide the perfect, and in fact the definitive, riposte to any criticism.

    If the hosts had been defeated then Smith would’ve been squarely in the sights as it would’ve been difficult to form an argument which didn’t have Australia batting again as a prime reason for such a result. But the facts state otherwise, they will continue to state otherwise and that is pretty much that.

    If winning the game supersedes everything else then there isn’t a case to answer. Yes, there may have been a few twitchy moments as reviews were squandered, chances grassed, and half the target was scratched off but that is cricket and a 120-run victory is, for all the nerves that Smith alluded to, still comprehensive in manner.

    Steve Smith Usman Khawaja

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    What Smith’s way of operating showed was a continuation of a modern trend that has shied away from the default setting of enforcing the follow-on.

    Where once it almost went without saying that should the target fail to be reached the openers would be padding up for another go, now the fall of the tenth wicket is generally quickly followed by numbers one and two sprinting off for an extra minute to get their gear on.

    A coach I played under when first starting out at Northants was always of the opinion that by batting again you’re handing your opponents an opportunity, however slim, where none should exist.

    This could be applied to Adelaide with a reeling England, who must have expected to bat again with the lights coming on, seeing their chances suddenly rise from the dead, yet Smith wouldn’t have seen it that way.

    Whereas the format I was playing was generally three-day cricket with the odd four-day contest thrown in, with the time obviously more limited for any potential comeback, there were seven sessions remaining when the England first innings was wrapped up. And that, the reasoning would suggest, is ample time for a strong position to become impregnable.

    Add to the melting pot the modern-day theory of not flogging the seam bowlers into the floor – understandable with a five-match series crammed into seven weeks – and it isn’t surprising Root was asked to take his team out to field again.

    Such an approach couldn’t care less for the fact Jimmy Anderson was able to bowl himself into form or Chris Woakes could get a few confidence-boosting wickets under his belt, or even that a couple of the batsmen in need of a score were presented with an awkward assignment that need not have existed.

    The result is king and the result came down in the favour of Australia so as Smith mentioned, all talk is indeed irrelevant.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.