Ode to a true Australian titan – Steve Smith, a batsman like no other
Cricket expects England to continuously dominate, and the world champions truly came into their own in 2019, having demonstrated a spark of unsullied brilliance ever since 2017. Cricket also expects no less from India, who are world-beaters on their day, with the fact being that their days last longer than the ceaseless miles Usain Bolt can jog off without much sweat.
But from Australia, a bastion of cricketing excellence, the world expects something unreal. Australians are expected to regain the stronghold they particularly enjoyed over the sport back in the heydays of 2000s and throughout the nineties.
It’s not like the one among Cricket’s top three isn’t a strong force today; but it would be lovely to see Australians become the demolishing force they once were, one that instilled a fear in the mind of the opponent.
And when you look at a Pat Cummins, you see a bright future leader who’s just waiting to explore his wings. David Warner, a Test triple centurion is still going strong. There’s Hazlewood, Zampa, Stoinis, and Lyon- a quartet of match-winners.
And then there’s Steve Smith- a batsman like no other, a man who none can ever be.
Why Smith is special
A man who’s conquered inner demons, who has bitten dust and turned dust into gold, which incidentally also happens to be the colour of a jersey he wears with pride, truly aware today of the enormous responsibility it reposes on brave men who walk out there on the cricket pitch with an aim to churn magic.
And above all, Smith is the only candidate from Australia in the titanic tussle towards winning the battle of being the world’s best batsman, to which Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are worthy competitors and enormous challengers.
No monk or beacon of self-righteousness, Steve Smith, who turns 32 today, has already endured what many might call a rollercoaster ride. He’s churned out records and attracted brickbats at express speed akin to the famous Ferrari roller coaster at Abu Dhabi-bound Ferrari world.
Smith arrives on the world stage
No sooner than he was introduced to the world of cricket did Smith go onto prove his credentials as a talented leg spinner who possessed the guile and loop to endanger the batsman’s stumps. Warne was already history and there was vacuum for an able spinner to inherit the spot.
In those days, circa 2010, Smith would only swing the bat on an occasion or two, never afforded a space in the top or the middle order of a line-up, which was replete with talents like Clarke, Watson, Hussey and Bailey.
Yet the Steve Smith story owes its thrills to the fiery proclivity using which a one-time leg spinner who never had his sights on batting became one of the world’s most dominant batsman, and that too, in the sport’s most arduous format- Test Cricket.
Although, that wasn’t before biting maliciously into some ‘sandpaper!’
Remember 2018? Newslands, Capetown, days after which the usually supremely confident Smith, a bloke with boyish charm and excessive self-confidence lacked every ounce of it when he went behind the mic tearing up like a schoolboy smacked on the face for notoriety?
Being an Australian cricketer is hard enough. You not only have to rise through the ranks, but a well-oiled domestic structure proving it difficult to reach the top annals. But the challenge of breaking in and proving oneself to be a staple resource in Australian cricket becomes an exasperating exercise in the event of one becoming a captain.
So, when Smith was found guilty of ball tampering, being a leader, it was almost curtains down on a glowing career whose byline was enormity of run scoring and boundless potential.
That could’ve been the end, but it wasn’t
In some ways, Smith being around again and going strong is down to the fact that he’s much-loved and regarded as a true modern great of the game. It’s not the world being blindingly kind on a talented bloke who chose an erroneous path.
It’s down to the stunning numbers that Smith has amassed, in a sport where most envy longevity and dream to win the much-coveted Ashes series.
In four of his ten calendar years in Tests, Smith has smoked in excess of 1,000 runs.
And what truly indicates his herculean nature at run-scoring is the fact in seven of the ten years he’s wielded a bat in Test match cricket, he’s scored at an average north of 70.
That’s like a Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 4 games per outing or Sir Lewis Hamilton delivering a pole, win, and fastest lap for consecutively for, at least, half a Formula 1 season.
It’s bizarre meets brilliance. It’s the marriage of fire and ice.
But a number that should truly drive cricket critics who still question Smith’s inclusion in Australia having committed a sacrilege-like error of ball-tampering are his numbers against England and India, two of the strongest bowling attacks.
Of his 7540 Test runs, nearly 4500 have come against the game’s most daunting forces.
Moreover, he averages 72- read that again- 72 against India and 65 versus England.
The man who once hid behind his father’s arm for the world seemed a demon in front of his cricketing catastrophe has come back like a Thor on a battlefield just that his bat is the hammer.
And some of his Ashes outings are evident proof of that. For instance, the Perth double hundred, the revered 239 that saw Smith hold his nerve for over 500 minutes in the middle.
He scored 774 Ashes runs- a high flying effort resembling figures etched on a Boeing carrier- in 2019 Ashes and didn’t even need the full quota of 5 (the usual no.) Tests to do it.
In a ten-year journey, Smith has become the poster boy of Test heroism and dauntless consistency as also the bad boy of cricket whose every forthcoming inning seems an effort of atonement to wipe out the past mistakes.
There’s always something he brings to the crease- whether it’s his rather odd way of letting a delivery by, taking his stance, shuffling, and that trigger movement captivating much like watching someone wearing an umbrella over the head.
But to Australia it truly signals that the team is safe and under cover from harshness of the opponents.
Also, the man who’s fired 38 international centuries would definitely want to get better in the 50-over format where it seems his best is yet to come.
Though, for now, the man who turns 32 but still looks pup-eyed rules with the élan of a man made of steel, built on self-conviction and that voracious appetite at run-scoring that doesn’t look if it’ll be swayed by any more distractions.
Happy bday Steven Smith.
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