After falling cheaply on day two of the third Ashes Test, Steve Smith is in the midst of his biggest form slump since 2013.
Although it’s hardly time to sound the alarm bells for the world’s third-ranked Test batter, Smith has fallen well short of his lofty standards since his awe-inspiring efforts in the previous Ashes series in England two years ago.
He has scored just one Test century in his past 13 Tests, which is his leanest return since he notched his first ton for Australia eight years ago, in his 12th match in the baggy green.
Smith fell for 16 late in the morning session on day two of the Boxing Day Test against England, when he inside-edged veteran seamer James Anderson onto his stumps.
The 32-year-old vice-captain went close to triple figures while standing in as skipper in the previous Test in Adelaide, where he was dismissed for 93. He made six in the second innings last week after scoring just 12 in the first Test in Brisbane.
His 131 against India at Sydney last summer remains his only ton in the 12 Tests since the 2019 Ashes, when he tore the old enemy apart with 774 runs in four matches, averaging 110.57 as he amassed three centuries and as many half-centuries from seven innings.
Smith’s career average rose to its peak of 64.81 after the fourth Test of that series, but it has dropped to 60.85 after Monday’s dismissal.
In the 12 Tests, all at home against Pakistan, New Zealand, India and England over the past two years, he has tallied a modest 694 runs at 36.53.
Smith has feasted on England over the years – he has scored 11 of his 27 Test hundreds from his 30 Ashes contests, averaging 62.27.
In the previous Ashes series in Australia, he racked up a Bradmanesque run of 687 at 137.4, including three centuries; highlighted by his majestic 239 at Perth.
From the 65 Tests against all-comers from his first ton at The Oval against England in 2013 to his most recent one in Sydney at the start of this year, he averaged a century every 2.4 matches.
Leading into the 2021-22 series, he was not able to get any first-class cricket under his belt after representing Australia in their T20 World Cup win in the UAE.
After all-rounder Ben Stokes peppered Smith with some short-pitched bowling on the seaming Melbourne wicket, Anderson cashed in with a well-placed off-cutter as Smith lurched forward to drive.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 27, 2021
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Fox Cricket getting Smith cheaply on Monday was vital for the touring team’s chances of limiting Australia’s first-innings lead and remaining a chance to steal the Test, after they were bowled out for 185 on the first day.
“Jimmy Anderson gets the ball to nip back and Steve Smith’s just trapped on his crease. A bit unfortunate with the inside edge but you can see Joe Root’s celebration there,” he said.
“It’s a huge moment when you see the back of Steve Smith.”
With nightwatchman Nathan Lyon (10) and newly minted world No.1 batter Marnus Labuschagne (1) already back in the pavilion, Smith’s dismissal gave England a hope of limiting the middle-order damage on day two.
With Travis Head (27) and Marcus Harris (76) nicking off before Australia had passed England’s total, the match is now set up for a fourth-innings run-chase.
Australia will likely need Smith to produce the goods on a wearing MCG wicket to wrap up the win and seal a series win.