Australia coach Justin Langer believes disgraced David Warner and Steve Smith are ready for a hostile reception from South African supporters when they play in a three-match Twenty20 International series starting in Johannesburg on Friday.
The first time I saw Steve Smith was in the 2008 ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. He started off as a leg-spin bowling all-rounder.
Smith had potential, but there were doubts about whether he would perform on the big stage. He made his Test debut two years later in the series against Pakistan.
On debut, the young all-rounder scored 1 and 12, and picked up 3/51 in the second innings of the match. Smith played the remaining three matches of the 2010-11 Ashes series and he went wicketless. He scored 54 not out in the second innings of the Sydney Test.
Other than that knock and the 77 he made against Pakistan at Headingley, there were no signs of a future record-breaking batsman and two-time Allan Border Medallist. Steven Smith did not play Test cricket for two years.
“Let’s face it, when he first came in, leg-spinner, unorthodox… (everyone thought) ‘I’m not sure this kid’s going to make it’,” Justin Langer said this week. “Then he goes away (and decides) ‘I don’t want to be a leg-spinner, I want to be the best batsman in the world’, then he transforms himself.”
He returned to the Test squad in the 2013 Border-Gavaskar series, making an impressive 92. Plenty of positive signs were on display. Footwork, unorthodox technique, placement and that classic Steven Smith fidgety crease movement were all present in that knock.
Unfortunately, Australia lost the series 4-0 and the coach Mickey Arthur got sacked. The 2013 Ashes came, and Australia lost 3-0. A few positives came from the series and Steve Smith was one of them.
In the final Test at the Oval, Smith scored 138 not out in the first innings. The date was 21 August 2013 and any avid Australian Test cricket fan should note that date.
From that day onwards, all cricket fans were about to witness the astronomical rise of the greatest Test batsman of the current era.
Before that knock of 138 not out against England, Smith averaged 29.52, scoring 620 runs from 11 games with no centuries and five half-centuries. From that moment onwards, his average continuously rose.
Steve Smith is now regarded as the best Test batsman of the current generation.
Smith returned to Test cricket last Thursday after serving a one-year ban for his role in the much talked-about ball-tampering saga. Smith scored back-to-back hundreds and put the cricketing world on notice.
The English crowd heavily booed him, but those boos did not affect him. Smith answered all his detractors by letting his bat do the talking. All the off-field drama and negative reactions did not affect Smith. The answers came in the form of two outstandingly orchestrated hundreds in the same Test.
The first hundred is his best knock to date. At 8/122, Australia were struggling. Steve Smith batted with the No.10 and No.11 batsmen to give Australia a competitive total of 284. Credit to Peter Siddle for supporting Smith with a vital 44. Without that knock, it would have been difficult for Smith to pull off that marvellous innings of 144 off 219 balls.
He backed it up in the second innings with 142 off 207 balls. Smith manufactured three vital partnerships over 40 with Usman Khawaja, Travis Head (51 off 116 balls) and fellow second-innings centurion, Matthew Wade (110 off 143 balls).
Smith has the second highest Test average of all time with an average of 62.96, just behind Aussie icon Sir Donald Bradman.
On nine occasions, Steven Smith has scored a fifty and a century in the same Test match. Also, since that 138 not out against England in 2013, he has played 54 Tests, scoring 5865 runs at an average of 71.52.
Smith’s overall record reads 65 matches, 119 innings, 16 not-outs, 6458 runs, averaging 62.96 at a strike rate of 55.9. His highest score is 239 against England in 2018, with 25 tons and 24 half-centuries. It’s an outstanding record.
From the 25 centuries he has scored to date, 17 of them have come in victories, six have come in draws and two in defeats. More than half his career runs (3852) have come in victories and Smith has an astonishing average of 91.71 in wins since making his first hundred.
From 2014 to 2018, in matches that Australia has lost, Smith averages a disappointing 30.06. So that stat shows the 2015 ICC Cricketer of the Year’s importance to Australian success.
To average above 40 against and in every Test nation except one (Bangladesh) is a sign of a world-class player. Out of all the Test-playing nations, Smith has a brilliant record against England and India.
Against England, he has played 24 matches, aggregating 2312 runs, 5 not-outs, averaging 60.34, 10 centuries and 6 half-centuries. Against India, he has played 10 matches, scoring 1429 runs, 7 hundreds, 3 half-centuries, at an average 84.06 and a strike rate of 56.02. Overall, he averages above 50 against England, India, New Zealand, West Indies, and Pakistan.
At home, Smith averages 77.25 with 13 hundreds, and away, he averages 53.89 with 12 tons. Smith has taken part in 21 Test series and averages above 40 in 15 of them, including five series where he averages above 100.
Out of the 21 series he has played, Smith has failed to score a ton in only seven.
The two-time Australian Test player of the year’s batting record as captain is superb. In 34 matches, Smith averages 70.36, aggregating 3659 runs, with 15 centuries and a highest score of 239 in 2018 against England.
He is the second batsman after Matthew Hayden to score over 1000 runs in four consecutive years (2014-2017). He averaged above 70 in all four of those years.
He averages an astonishing 108.16 in the first innings, 66.96 in the second, and 55.14 in the third. His average in the fourth innings is 36.00, but he normally sets up the game for his team. In the career-changing series against India in 2014, he hit centuries in four consecutive matches, averaging 128.17.
From the second innings of the 2014 Test against Pakistan in the UAE, where Smith scored 97, Smith has not averaged below 40. Three Tests later, he scored his first Boxing Day hundred. He scored 192 in the first innings against India and from that knock onwards, he has averaged above 50.
Steven Peter Devereux Smith is brilliant.
He is a crafty batsman who displays immense mental strength. At 30, Smith has enough years left in him to break more batting records. He also has enough years to give Australia more victories.
Smith is a statistical genius and the best Test batsman of this era by a fair margin.