While debate continues on just how much Steve Smith’s batting style resembles that of Sir Donald Bradman, I would argue that if a player wants to emulate that magical 99.94 average, he also needs the Don’s powers of concentration.
There’s been plenty of talk recently about how current captain Steve Smith has a similar batting style to Australia’s captain of 70 years earlier, Don Bradman. I have to say that when I look closely at images of the two batting styles I can see the similarities.
The grips are both unconventional and both players are quick on their feet. Bradman had a rare backlift, as does Smith, and both batsmen are more than happy to be pragmatic rather than stylish in their insatiable desire to score runs.
But what good is a unique, effective batting technique if you don’t stay in long enough to use it? Answer: not much good.
Bradman loved staying in for a long time. In fact in Test cricket he scored a century approximately every three innings. He also scored more than twice as many centuries as half-centuries – 29 tons to just 13 half-tons. By way of comparison, Steve Smith has 23 centuries and 22 half-centuries so far. Alastair Cook, whose epic innings in the fourth Test dashed Aussie hopes of a whitewash, has scored 32 and 55 respectively.
So it was Bradman’s ability to knuckle down and concentrate to score big totals that really set him apart, even if he perhaps didn’t know it himself.
“Many cricketers … had more ability than I had,” he was once quoted as saying. “Why they didn’t make more runs than I did I don’t know.”
Certainly his intense concentration is something that observers around him remarked upon both during his career and when they met him later. It’s something he may have picked up from a young age.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Bradman’s childhood home in Bowral, at 52 Shepherd Street, on a private tour. The modest wooden home has been restored with a keen eye for detail and is packed full of items that would have adorned it in Bradman’s day.
Hidden smart speakers have also been installed to give visitors an idea of what it would have sounded like in the Bradman household around 1920 or so. With the click of a few buttons you are transported back in time, hearing the house as it would have been.
With mother Emily chopping dinner in the kitchen, George doing his carpentry work in the front room and Don’s four siblings either practising their singing or playing their musical instruments, you can easily imagine a young Bradman sitting in the middle of it all, battling to complete his homework.
No wonder he went outside with a golf ball and a stump.
Bradman ended up getting pretty good grades, was also a top pianist himself and then headed off to play grade cricket in Sydney as a teenager. The rest, as they say, is history.
I don’t know much about how Steve Smith spent his childhood days. Either way, his powers of concentration seem to be getting stronger and stronger of late, whether it is perfectly mixing aggression and patience or batting it out for a draw. His former batting coach Trent Woodhill told Fairfax recently it’s all because the 28-year-old treats each delivery he receives as “a gift”.
To match Bradman’s numbers Smith will have to hold on to that approach. Concentrating on each ball will see him get the most out of his unique batting style, which bowlers the world over seem to have not yet worked out.