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Steve Smith: Aesthetics versus efficacy

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17th August, 2019
9

Social media is suddenly awash with a mash-up of Steve Smith’s uniquely exaggerated technique when it comes to leaving balls outside his off-stump.

And when I say unique, I am using that word both deliberately and correctly.

Surely, no batsman in the history of Test cricket has ever executed the same gyrations, pirouettes and eccentric conniptions that Smith does, all in the aid of adding a soulless dot to the scorebook.

I doubt any batsman at any level of the game – from the kid opening the batting for the Under-10s to the aspiring state cricketer – has ever left the ball with such malicious intent.

The stock-standard version of Smith’s unconventional method is to ensure that his pads are outside the line of the off stump – thus ruling out the LBW – and to hawkishly watch the ball pass his wicket before swatting the vacant air where the ball once was, as if he were splitting a watermelon with a Samuai sword rather than wielding a cricket bat.

But on other occasions, Smith watches the ball sail past him with such malevolent fury that he spins on his heel, whilst performing an elaborate jig, before coming to rest with his back to the bowler.

As outlandish and anomalous as Smith’s cavorting at the crease may be, it’s effective.

Ultimately, he applies the same intensity to declining to hit the ball as he does to his most savage swipe to the mid-wicket fence.

Yet the fact that Smith’s method works doesn’t mean it’s not also comical.

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Steve Smith

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

That brings me to one of the things I love about cricket and the actual point of this article.

For as long as Test cricket has been contested, it has celebrated both aesthetics and efficacy; both beauty and the beast.

Don Bradman’s remorseless, industrial accumulation of endless runs was complemented by Archie Jackson’s elegant drives and poetic late-cuts.

As I was growing up in the 1980s, Allan Border’s punctuated nudges, perfunctory deflections and pugnacious short-arm jabs were mightily effective. But it was Kim Hughes – cover driving upon bended knee or slashing the ball behind point, his bat twirling over his head like an Arabian knight – who thrilled me.

That cricket-lovers rejoice in both results and resplendence in such equal measure represents an element of the spirit of the sport.

Indeed, this sublime symbiosis is exemplified in one cricketing family: the Waugh twins.

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Steve Waugh ended his career with a compelling record. Like defiantly determined batsmen before him, Steve knew his limitations and after a stuttering start learned how to amass runs with stunning regularity. Though not necessarily an ugly batsman, he could not be described as pretty.

By contrast, surely nothing in any sport could be more divine than a Mark Waugh cover drive – every limb, muscle and sinew interacting in beguiling unison as he strides forward, with no hint of any haste, to caress the ball with concentrated violence to the boundary rope?

When it comes to alluring artistry, Steven Smith is no Mark Waugh.

Yet the idiosyncratic elements of his unique batting technique render Smith the most accomplished batsman of his generation.

Whether it’s performing an exotic dance to ensure the ball travels safely to the keeper or modifying his stance from ball to ball to counter changing tactics, Smith is the embodiment of practical run-scoring.

And we celebrate him for it, even if some of his antics make us chuckle.

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