As England have just played a meaningless Twenty20 international against New Zealand (tagged at the end of a tour, just what is the point?) and Australia are netting ahead of their tour opener, the Ashes phoney war will have to suffice for this week’s offering.
A tradition that has escalated in recent years, the build-up to the series is dominated by throwaway comments, random predictions, shallow newspaper articles and general nonsense.
In no particular order, we’ve already had Michael Clarke saying that his team will play aggressively, Darren Lehmann questioning England’s style, Sam Billings (no, he won’t even get close to playing) saying the one-day victory over New Zealand will set the tone for the Ashes, and Graeme Swann doubting Steve Smith’s technique.
All harmless stuff and none really relative to the actual contest which opens in a couple of weeks. But as I said, there’s no cricket to talk about so I’ll go for my brother’s assessment of Smith instead.
Before you jump all over it and feign outrage at who has said what and who it’s about, there is some merit in what Graeme came out with.
“I still don’t think he’s got a great technique. He must have surprised himself, as well as everyone else, with his output. The trick for him is to try to keep that going. Whether he can, time will tell. I don’t think he’ll score runs at three if it’s swinging,” he was quoted as saying in the press.
The statistics over the past year or so indicate that Smith’s idiosyncratic method must have something going for it as you can’t rack up those kind of numbers on a wing and a prayer.
Yet if Australia’s number three is being assessed on a purely technical level, anyone with a basic knowledge of batting technique wouldn’t be hard pushed to jot a few things down in the cons column.
In simple terms it comes down to the number of moving parts. Smith, in stark contrast to David Warner for example, is like a cat on hot bricks.
There is the exaggerated shuffle in front of the stumps – far more pronounced than a year ago – a head that moves more than your average because of it and a backlift that is pronounced and airy.
In some ways it reminds me of Jim Furyk’s golf swing in that it is far from orthodox but it gets results, and there are simple reasons for this.
When swinging a golf club, as long as the face of the club meets the ball square on and is on the right path for the final few feet of its downward journey, then the outcome should generally take care of itself.
Batting has similarities in that if the bat meets the ball correctly and from a stable position then more will go right than wrong. Smith falls into this category.
When playing at less than his best, and this is what Graeme hinted at, he plays away from his body, the front foot doesn’t move out to the ball particularly far as the sideways movement prevents it, and the bat comes down across the line because of the angle it approaches from.
But when all is in sync, and this goes for all batsmen, the result usurps the practicalities and all talk around it becomes irrelevant.
If I was an England bowler, Jimmy Anderson especially, I’d fancy a go at Smith with a swinging ball for all that has been mentioned above. But, and it will have been noted, if his strengths are fed then trouble could ensue.
Look at any video of Smith’s recent exploits and you’ll see a batsman in a still position when the ball is being delivered, a bat coming down straight, and feet that are moving decisively. In a nutshell, all the ingredients for success.
Smith isn’t technically perfect, few are, and there are areas that can be targeted, but whether they are and he plays ball is another question entirely.