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

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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55 Have your say

    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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    The Crowd Says (55)

    • Roar Rookie

      March 2nd 2017 @ 7:39am
      Lancey5times said | March 2nd 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      One would also think that if he gets a win or draw out of the India series then goes on and wins the Ashes he will be leading a quite stable side with guys like Handscomb and Renshaw fully established at international level.

      And he is doing all of this without a wicketkeeper

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:13am
        jameswm said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        Yeah, if we can sort out 6 and 7 we’d be a lot better for it.

    • March 2nd 2017 @ 7:43am
      qwetzen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      It’s a bit early to tell but if I had to vote now I’d vote; No. His field placings are pretty standard & predictable, he hasn’t handled Lyon very well and he doesn’t have the personality ‘presence’ of the great captains (Border & Chappelli). For one thing he appears to be totally without a sense of humour, and humour is a terrific part of cricket. Smith has no humour safety valve and consequently can get wound up too tightly in the game which radiates out to make everyone else tense up. But like everything else, time will tell…

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:09am
        Nudge said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

        Let’s also not forget that smith took over when , Haddin, Clarke, Watson, Rogers, Johnson and Harris all virtually retired together. He’s also a very young captain taking over at 25 or 26. Ponting Clarke Taylor and Waugh took over when they were 30 or older. For his age and having to build a new side and keeping Aus at no 2 in the world he’s got off to a decent start. He has some things he’s needs to get better at, but he’s hardly the finished article. He’s got 10 years ahead. His leadership with the bat has been nothing short of phenomenal

        • Roar Rookie

          March 2nd 2017 @ 8:15am
          Lancey5times said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

          Couldn’t agree more.
          And AB was cranky. Did that make him a poor captain? Maybe his demeanor has more to do with inheriting a struggling/developing side (something him and AB both did). It is quite possibly a tough, trying task.

          • March 2nd 2017 @ 9:10am
            qwetzen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

            jameswm said: “I don’t recall Clarke, Ponting or Waugh showing much of a sense of humour.”

            Scroll up James. I did actually name my great captains.

            • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:12am
              Jameswm said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

              Si you just mean those two?

              We’ve had plenty of captains who have done well without a sensational sense of humour. As for a presence – it’s a bit harder when you’re younger – time will tell as you said.

              • March 2nd 2017 @ 11:09am
                qwetzen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

                Jameswm said: “Si you just mean those two?”

                Hola James!
                Yes I do mean just those two. Remember that the piece is discussing “great”.

              • March 2nd 2017 @ 11:36am
                Jameswm said | March 2nd 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                Got it.


      • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:12am
        jameswm said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

        I don’t recall Clarke, Ponting or Waugh showing much of a sense of humour. Clarke took (takes) himself very seriously and Waugh was grim.

        His captaincy was very good in Pune in tough conditions.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:27am
        Sideline said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        I’d love to see how you back claims that he is humourless. He is often laughing and joking around on the field, at least when Australia are winning. When they’re losing, well it’s no time for jokes, and in press conferences I can’t blame him for not showing humour.

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 11:36am
          qwetzen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

          Sideline said: “I’d love to see how you back claims that he is humourless.”

          That’d be because I’ve never heard him say anything that even vaguely attempts humour.
          And on the field I keep thinking that he’s escaped from an android factory.

          Look people, this isn’t a big issue. He may turn out to be an even better captain than Stuey Law. No, change that to; ‘nearly as good a captain as Stuey Law’ despite having the facial mobility and resemblance to an Easter Island statue. It’s *my* observation/opinion that great captains usually have more personality nuances than Smith does.


          • Roar Rookie

            March 2nd 2017 @ 12:53pm
            Lancey5times said | March 2nd 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            It’s my observation/opinion that biscuits taste better in the fridge but it doesnt make me even remotely correct

            • March 2nd 2017 @ 5:53pm
              Roctopus said | March 2nd 2017 @ 5:53pm | ! Report

              I can confirm that biscuits DO taste better in the fridge… Unfortunately I can’t get the light to stay on so I have trouble finding the milk to wash them down

            • March 2nd 2017 @ 6:43pm
              qwetzen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

              You must be smaller than you look if you can eat biscuits in the fridge…

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:49pm
        davSA said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

        Made me think about other humourless captains and Kepler Wessells of the Proteas really stands out. I Have hardly ever seen him smile and when he does it even hurts me to watch. He was however overcompensated by Brian Mcmillan standing with him in the slips . Big Mac constantly had his teammates and often the opposing batsmen in stitches.He got nailed a number of times by match commissioners for inappropriate language.

        In that vein Steve Smith does seem a bit , well , dour. I’m not certain if he has another character in the side who can perform a Big Mac for him . No Warnie with his toilet humour either.

    • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:07am
      BurgyGreen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      As a leader, he has blossomed since Hobart except for his role in the bizarre Maxwell situation. He leads from the front with the bat (putting himself at 3 in Pune was a great move) and is a true fighter who appears to have earned his team’s respect.

      As a tactician he’s made more than a few questionable decisions but was good in Pune.

      Overall he’s not great yet, but this win may be the beginning of greatness.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 9:40am
        col in paradise said | March 2nd 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        Maxwell needs to become a team player..I agree with the move they made on him…he to date is over rated..The show and all that rubbish…maybe some consistency as well….but they need to consider him now as M Marsh is not a test player..Christ he isn’t even up to the Watson standard which wasn’t to high !!!..but yes 6 and 7 are the issues with this team so how much more time for Wade to get it together is the question…in regards to him not using Lyons I agree with that at the time as Lyons was flat and out of his usual form (maybe needed the breather and get the hunger)..not performing to his standard now he is coming back to that you use him more…

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:18am
          BurgyGreen said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

          You may be right about Maxwell’s ability but he hasn’t been given a fair go like Mitch Marsh has, having played three overseas Tests compared to Marsh’s 20 Tests, so the jury’s still out. What he does have is a far superior first class batting average, so I think he would do well.

          • March 2nd 2017 @ 1:53pm
            Rob said | March 2nd 2017 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

            They shouldn’t have taken Maxwell on tour. He should be back putting the runs on the board IMO so he can change the selectors veiws. It appears he’s being used as a proffesional fieldsman a bit like Rodger Harper and Logie were for the WI. What a waste of talent. How can he score 100’s as Lehmans suggest? I found his punishment, of being made 12th man for 3 games in Australia’s ODI series against Pakistan unproffesional. The same as picking M.Marsh on that pitch for game 1. In the tour game he batted behind Wade and Mitch which is garbage IMO.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:28am
        Sideline said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        I think this is a good summary. Totally agree.

    • March 2nd 2017 @ 9:38am
      Rob said | March 2nd 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      Smith certainly leads with his actions. He looks to have a problem with trusting his team mates when thing get tight? Winning has changed that. As long as players are willing to follow he will have plenty of success. Renshaw, Starc, Hazelwood, Warner, Handscomb and now SOK have all stood up and done the job for him. As a Captain you have to have faith in your team mates.

    • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:29am
      Jameswm said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Off topic – but I’ve defcided our no.6 for the 2nd test should be – Ashton Turner. Yes I realise he is not in India. Here is why.
      It is likely to be a low slow pitch and India could score big. We need an accurate 5th bowler and a no.6 who can dig in and bat long.

      Marsh sort of fits the bowler part, but I can’t see his bowling doing that well. He is also prone to getting out in his first 20-30 balls.

      Maxwell – his bowling could be a little more accurate but might fit, but a 40 off 40 is not what we need. I might be selling him short there, but he does not strike me as someone who can or would put their mind to batting for the day.

      head’s bowling isn’t quite there and he struggles facing swing.

      Cartwright’s bowling isn’t accurate enough or suited. batting wise he is a fit.

      All batsmen only are out. Need a 5th bowler.

      That leaves Turner. Can handle spin and can bat for long periods. His bowling is the best of those part time right arm finger spinners – accurate and with some variation. He started in FC cricket primarily as a spinner.

      I’ll add – if SOK establishes himself as our no.1 spinner this tour, it opens the door for Turner, Maxwell or Head to come into the team more permanently at 6. On a greentop, you could play 4 quicks and you have the spinner. Even then, I think Turner is the best bet as he’s the best combination of a genuine test batsman and useful spinner. He’s no worse than Moeen ali, for example. He might average 60 to Ali’s 40, but I think Turner is better than that – look at his T20 stats – 17 wickets in 39 overs, wow. Probably doesn’t help playing half his games in Perth with Agar also in the side.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 1:57pm
        jamesb said | March 2nd 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        Turner should move interstate to either Adelaide, Sydney or even Brisbane to help him with his spin bowling.

        Just look at Ryan Harris. Struggled to make an impact with SA at the Adelaide oval. Then moved to Qld, and GABBA did provide a turning point in Harris’ career.

        I agree, Turners first class stats don’t accurately reflect his ability as a spin bowler. He does provide some loop and drift. IMO, compared to Agar, he is a far better spin bowling prospect.

        • March 3rd 2017 @ 6:34am
          Baz said | March 3rd 2017 @ 6:34am | ! Report

          i think the problem is at home the 5th bowler tends to be better if its a pace part timer although this is different for most other teams bar england.

    • March 2nd 2017 @ 10:48am
      Mike said | March 2nd 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

      Some people are certainly hyper-critical! Sure he’s not a great captain yet…but who becomes a great captain in a bit over a year?
      His batting has been amazing and that alone demonstrates a man who has the resilience to cope with pressure while maintaining his own form – something the much lauded Taylor struggled with! He’s an exceptional cricketer, already one of our great batsmen. He isn’t the prettiest to watch but he has a great eye, inner strength and focus of Herculean proportions (like Steve Waugh and AB), and he can adapt his batting to the situation. He understands that, ultimately, batting is about scoring runs, coping with pressure and not getting out. It isn’t about looking pretty – that’s an optional bonus!
      His tactical nous will improve and his ability to think ahead will kick in. But those skills are useless if you don’t have the basic attributes that he has already demonstrated in spades.
      Another great thing he is clearly doing is bringing the team together. Clarke was a divisive character who, despite his tactical nous on the field, obviously lacked social nous in the change room! Smith has created an atmosphere where new players with the skills are excelling (Handscomb, Renshaw, O’Keefe) which is something Waugh did well.
      My perception of Smith is that he is personable and likes a laugh off the field (when he is “Smudge”) but as soon as he crosses the rope it’s business time. Viv Richards and that Windies bunch had a similar kind of on-field intensity balanced with a joking off-field manner.
      He seems to have an inner “switch” which he flicks on when he needs to. This is so often a common trait with all high achievers and Smudge is definitely a high achiever who has only got halfway through his career. If he plays another 50 tests like he has the first 50 odd then his stature as being the next best Aussie bat after Bradman will be difficult to refute. Let’s be grateful for having him and let him have aspects of his game that he is applying himself to in order to improve.
      He’s an exceptional cricketer and a young man of integrity that I’m more than happy to have hold the office of captain of the Aussie cricket team!

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