Steve Smith’s most recent Ashes performance was the finest of his astonishing Test career. If he can destroy England in difficult circumstances, what kind of carnage can he wreak in easier home conditions this summer?
Cricket fans are inundated with Smith stats these days. But here’s one you might not be familiar with – over the last five years Smith has averaged nearly 100 in home Tests.
In that period he has churned out 2,604 runs at 96 at home, including a phenomenal haul of 11 tons from just 21 Tests.
That includes two of the most dominant home series by an Australian batsman in history – 769 runs at 128 in just four Tests against India, and 687 runs at 137 against England in the last Ashes down under.
When Pakistan last toured, Smith hammered them for 441 runs at 110. Yet Smith is an even better batsman now than he was then and, quite possibly, hungrier too after spending 12 months in international exile.
Smith’s effort in the 2019 Ashes is as good as any performance I’ve ever witnessed by a batsman across a Test series.
In a series where most of the batsmen from both sides laboured badly against the swinging, seaming Dukes ball, Smith made cricket look ludicrously easy.
To score 774 runs from just seven innings in those circumstances left most of us in disbelief. Consider that, had he not missed three innings due to concussion, Smith was on pace to make 1,106 runs for the series.
So many things about his Ashes were extraordinary. To start with, he had not played a first-class match in 16 months before the Ashes.
Logic suggested he should have had some rust. Secondly, the conditions he faced were those which had troubled him most in his Test career, with generous swing and seam on offer to the England quicks, and a good left arm spinner to target another “weakness”.
Thirdly, he suffered a sickening blow from a scorching Jofra Archer bouncer. Such a heavy knock would prompt mental doubts for most batsmen, which in turn could create fresh technical issues.
The UK press certainly thought so, with several English pundits barely concealing their excitement as they questioned whether Smith would be the same batsman when he returned.
Archer proceeded to level a torrent of short balls at Smith in the fourth and fifth Tests. The result? Smith thumped 396 runs in those two matches, dominating Archer throughout.
Australian coach Justin Langer has repeatedly marvelled at what he calls Smith’s ability to solve problems. Archer had presented Smith with a problem. The Australian legend solved it immediately.
In Archer, England thought they had finally discovered Smith’s kryptonite. Then Smith went: “Nope”. Archer failed to dismiss him in the entire series while conceding more than 100 runs to Smith.
Meanwhile, England veteran Stuart Broad was in prime form, seaming and swinging the Dukes prodigiously yet he too was powerless against Smith.
If the former Australian captain maintains that touch this summer it is hard to see how either Pakistan or New Zealand can prevent him from cutting loose.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Abbas and New Zealand’s Trent Boult shape as the two bowlers best equipped for this task. Abbas is remarkably accurate, while Boult has the late swing and left arm angle to offer a point of difference.
Yet if Archer and Broad couldn’t go close to containing him, despite otherwise running amok in home conditions with the Dukes ball, what chance do the Pakistan and New Zealand bowlers have with the unhelpful Kookaburra on flatter pitches?
Pakistan, in particular, look vulnerable to a Smith assault. Abbas aside, the remainder of the Pakistan quicks are unproven, while their spinner Yasir Shah averaged 84 last time he toured Australia.
Smith batting at his Ashes level could do just about anything against Pakistan. New Zealand’s greater depth of pace bowling talent should present a far sterner test.
However, the Kiwis will need to have very specific plans to Smith, combined with the ability to execute them and the patience to stick with them, if they’re any hope of keeping him quiet.
Smith has averaged nearly 100 at home in the past five years and it won’t surprise me if he maintains that over the course of this Australian summer. With Smith, anything is possible.