Steve Smith: A batting genius who does it his way

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    If Steve Smith were to make 20 consecutive ducks, he would still average 50.1. No, that’s not a typo; it’s a stunning statistic.

    This stat simply underlines the career that the Australian captain has compiled so far. His unbeaten 141 in his first innings of this Ashes series leaves him with an aggregate of 5511 runs at an average of 61.2 from 105 innings.

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    Of all the batsmen to have played 20 or more Test innings only two men have averaged more – Don Bradman, who averaged 99.9 from 80 innings, and Adam Voges, who scored 61.9 from 31.

    This week’s century was Smith’s 21st Test ton. It means he scores a century every five innings. By comparison his, contemporaries Virat Kohli (5.7), Kane Williamson (6.5), Hashim Amla (6.6), AB de Villiers (8.4), Joe Root (8.5) and Alastair Cook (8.6) all lay in his wake. None of those batsmen averages more than 54.

    Smith is the third-fastest batsman in terms of innings to score 21 Test centuries behind Bradman (56) and Sunil Gavaskar (98).

    While some have been burdened by the weight of captaincy, Smith has thrived. In his 27 Tests at the helm, he has scored 2971 runs at 72.5 with 13 centuries – and let’s not forget that he is still only 28 years of age.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    It has been a remarkable career, even more so when you consider how it started. He debuted against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010 as a leg-spinner batting at number eight. His first century – against England at The Oval – came in his 12th Test and 23rd innings. Since then he has scored 20 hundreds in 45 matches.

    His latest innings at the Gabba was grafted out in concert with the position he found his team in. It was a quintessential captain’s knock. He largely eschewed driving down the ground after Shaun Marsh chipped a slower ball from Stuart Broad to James Anderson at mid-off, highlighting the sluggish nature of the pitch.

    One of the exceptions was a crisply struck cover drive that brought up his century. He spent over half an hour navigating the 90s, not through nerves or uncertainty but as a result of the scoreboard, with his team looking to reel in England’s first innings with eight wickets already in the shed.

    In the end, he guided Australia beyond parity to a 26-run lead.

    There is little orthodox about Smith’s technique. Indeed, if you were coaching a 12-year-old with a similar technique, you would be advising him to make considerable changes.

    His bottom hand is turned way around on the handle, a position that normally greatly inhibits the ability to drive through the offside. It provides no such encumbrance for Smith. His exorbitant lateral movement across the crease allows him to access the leg side from deliveries that most batsmen would play to the off.

    Steve Smith

    (Image: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    So many times he gets into the bowler’s head and messes with their line. In essence, he is a master at getting them to bowl where he wants them to. At times he can border on looking ugly from an MCC coaching manual perspective, but his effectiveness is undeniable.

    While his footwork can at times look awry, his bat swing is exquisite. In the latter portions of his downswing, the full face of the blade is brought to bear towards the delivery. It can give the impression that his bat is wider than those of his counterparts.

    Smith is also a master at playing the ball late, which eliminates lofted shots down the ground and allows him to access gaps in the field with nuanced wrist work at the very last moment. He is currently in complete mastery of his game and has been for quite some time.

    From his pre-stance choreographed fidgeting to the time he strikes the ball, Smith may look awkward at times. But more often than not it is the bowlers who are the awkward ones as they strive to breach a technique that has been honed to perfection.

    It is a methodology that is never likely to be widely taught nor mimicked, but for Steve Smith it works an absolute treat. His first innings at the Gabba was another salient reminder of that fact.

    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 (12)

    • November 27th 2017 @ 6:43am
      Jameswm said | November 27th 2017 @ 6:43am | ! Report

      Whatever his set-up, he is still at contact. That’s the key. I think the open stance in front of off helps. It is easier to play 4th and 5th stump line because your head is behind the line. And being open makes it easier to play through leg.

    • November 27th 2017 @ 8:34am
      sheek said | November 27th 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Hi Glenn,

      From the end of his career in 1984 until now I’ve considered Greg Chappell to be the best Australian batsman after Bradman.

      But I may have to change my opinion after lunch with some old school buddies on Saturday & Smith’s relentless march of brilliance.

      One mate, whose son has played in age groups with Smith, talked about how Smith takes guard in front of what might be termed ‘4th stump’. Anyone who changes the game by doing something out of the ordinarily accepted, is unique & special.

      Smith is unique & special.

      Even more enlightening was a comment from another mate, who was told by a former Sydney first-grade player & NSW selector, they tended to ignore players for higher selection who weren’t willing to play #3 or open at club level.

      The first-drop position, #3, is considered the most difficult position in the batting order.

      Revealingly, Smith has been brilliant at both #3 (av. 67 from 29 inns) & #4 (av. 79 from 31 inns).

      Chappell, by comparison, struggled at #3 (av. 43 from 28) but excelled at #4 (av. 59 from 86).

      Ponting deserves huge respect for averaging 56 from a phenomenal 196 innings at #3. Although surprisingly, Ponting bombed at #4 (av. 40 from 28).

      Border showed remarkable consistency, handling positions 3 to 6 equally well. Although #3 (av. 47 from 36) was his least productive).

      I think there’s a lot of truth in what this former state selector passed on. If you want to be selected for first class or test cricket, you must be willing to work at the coalface, & it doesn’t come any tougher than #3.

      Based on this, & accepting that Voges is an anomaly, I now believe Smith is the next best batsman after Bradman (the almighty #3 of all), not only statistically, but also manfully.

      Ponting is next, followed by Chappell & Border. I’m willing to downgrade both Waugh & Clarke ever so slightly, because they didn’t spend enough time at #3.

      Steve Waugh, Hussey & Clarke were most productive at #5. There is the slightest suspicion both Waugh & Clarke batted lower to perhaps protect their average despite being the best bat or two in the team for long periods of their career.

      The moral to the story, if you want gravitas as a true batsman, spend time at #3 & score good runs.

      • November 27th 2017 @ 9:01am
        bigbaz said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Yes, agree with that, best I’ve seen, but my earliest memories are live as cricket wasn’t televised in the late 50s early 60s so maybe Sobers is in his class , none other world wide. Disagree to a certain extent on Waugh , remember him getting a couple of 90s v the Windies early in his career at 3 when nobody could buy a run off them but immediately banished to 6 again. Should have been given an extended shot there.

        • November 27th 2017 @ 9:13am
          qwetzen said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          Fact Check: S Waugh never made a Test 90 against anyone at #3.

          • November 27th 2017 @ 10:27am
            Trevor said | November 27th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

            He did make a hundred against the WI at number 3 in 1992.

      • November 27th 2017 @ 11:53am
        DaveJ said | November 27th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Cant agree that Ponting was better than Greg Chappell, having seen all of both of their careers. Apart from having a better career Test average, Chappell had some outstanding performances against the best attack of his day, the West Indies, during the World Series years. In particular, 620 runs in the 5 super Tests in the Windies in 1979, with 3 centuries and a 90, against an attack of Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft. Ponting had a mediocre record in India and England, and his average was boosted by high averages against Zimbabwe and the modern day Windies, who aren’t much better than Zim, the kind of easy runs that weren’t around during Ponting’s career. Border likewise distinguished himself by his fight against the odds vs the great Windies bowlers. My all time Australian batting middle order would be Bradman, Chappell, Smith and Border. But I might give Ponting a run with Ponsford at opener ahead of Simpson or Morris. I’d also say that the bowlers faced by Steve Waugh in particular and Border were a lot tougher than those Smith has to deal with, if you look at the quality across the Windies, South Africa and Pakistan, even New Zealand.

      • November 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm
        Charlie Turner said | November 27th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

        Very good post Sheek!

    • November 27th 2017 @ 9:19am
      paul said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      The part of his batting that really needs to be emphasised is his temperament. He obviously has excellent concentration but is also a great judge of how to play in different conditions and different stages of games. This innings and his hundred in India highlight how well how can manage tough times, not worrying about scoring quickly, but focusing on building partnerships and getting on top of bowlers.

      If the really great batsman have anything in common, it has to be focus, concentration, ability to bat for the team and “game management”. Smith has these abilities in spades

    • November 27th 2017 @ 9:50am
      Worlds Biggest said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Cheers Glenn, Smith is a special batsmen, that knock was monumental occupying the crease for nearly 9 hours, phenomenal toughness. I remember early on in his career he was pillored by many pundits. He is classic e

    • November 27th 2017 @ 9:50am
      Worlds Biggest said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Sorry Smith is a classic example of not putting the cart before the horse. A wonderful cricketer.

    • November 27th 2017 @ 9:06pm
      Matth said | November 27th 2017 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

      Smith is starting to remind me of Border now, putting away his attacking instincts and digging in to carry a weaker team. His average continues to climb as his stroke rate falls while he drops anchor to protect his team. Waddaplaya!!

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