September 19, 2023

In considering where Steve Smith stands among Australian cricketers upon the occasion of his 100th Test cap, you would have to call him the second best since Sir Donald Bradman.

Only the late would be above someone with such a phenomenal statistical record.

Whenever I judge how great a player someone is, I assess whether they can perform in all conditions around the world.

Smith can. He has been incredible in averaging 55.6 overseas — a mark eight-and-a-half runs superior to ‘s, and much better still than the returns of Kane Williamson (45.91) and (41.28).

Just look at what he has done in England so far this summer.

Playing in that World Test Championship final on a slightly spicy pitch, he got a hundred. Then, batting first at Lord’s last week he struck another.

These are performances that show he is no flat-track bully who only scores runs when everything is in his favour, but a batsman able to adapt to challenges posed all around the world.

Steve Smith is up there with the very best when it comes to Australia’s greatest ever cricketers

Smith tried to identify six of his cricket bats blindfolded in a challenge for Cricket Australia

Smith is also particularly strong in the first innings of Tests, averaging more than 87, and hitting 22 of his 32 three-figure scores.

Getting runs to set up games is vital to the success of your team.

The reason Smith has developed into one of the all-time greats is that he is a great problem-solver.

One Ashes in Australia, he suddenly changed his technique mid-innings, promoting this unorthodox shuffle across his stumps — and it just worked for him.

When Smith sees a problem with batting, he goes in the nets, works hard and tries to solve it.

Crucially, he solves problems quicker than bowlers manage to come up with plans to combat him.

Take Stuart Broad, for example, someone who has a brilliant bowling mind. At Edgbaston, England’s veteran seamer went wider on the crease in a bid to entice a nick behind, and did so.

Smith has been incredible in averaging 55.6 overseas for his country

But Smith then overcame that vulnerability at Lord’s with a magnificent 110.

For want of a better word, he is a cricket badger. I admire the fact he thinks about the game all the time. His game is completely about touch. Yes, he is a little unorthodox and has a very strong bottom-hand grip — as well as a stance that is very open — and shuffles across a long way to be way outside off stump on occasion.

Smith also works straight balls that if he missed, he would be plumb lbw.
But the key is that he very rarely misses. His bat comes down from gully in a similar arc to that of Bradman and it may be a lesson to us all that two of the greatest ever players favour that arc.

Equally, at the point of contact with the ball, all these other movements and idio-syncrasies do not matter.

All that does is the whereabouts of the bat face, the position you are in and how still you are at the point of delivery.

I have often thought that it must be so mentally draining for Smith going through all this extra preparation: coming to England early despite being an experienced player, getting matches in for Sussex.
Yet last week at Lord’s he showed how much he loves the game and wants to get more and more runs.

Smith obviously had difficult times. None more so than the whole sandpaper scandal in Cape Town five years ago, and losing the Australian captaincy meant he paid the biggest price.

He has also become accustomed to getting booed, and after Lord’s last week he told his Australia team-mates: welcome to my world.

Smith gets booed when he gets off the bus and when he goes out to bat, and has songs sung at him fielding on the boundary.

The 34-year-old is also particularly strong in the first innings of Tests, averaging more than 87

Cricket is better for having someone like Smith in it, the only question is how long he continues

To be fair, he takes it in pretty good grace.

Most of it is done in fun, and the English fans always love a pantomime villain, whether it be Ricky Ponting — after Gary Pratt, the substitute fielder, ran him out at Trent Bridge in 2005 — or Warne. Personally, though, I think it is probably time to stand and applaud Smith for what he has done as a cricketer.

He has performed how Australians would want their cricketers to: someone a bit quirky who loves contributing to the baggy green cause and Australian cricket in general.

I guess the only question for Smith now is how long he continues.

He is so obsessed by batting and when you are like that it takes a lot of energy.

What I do know is that cricket is better off for having someone such as Smith in it.

Not least because he is a good lesson for coaches that uniqueness of any young boy or girl should be celebrated, not culled.
One of the greats of the game does things differently, and we should admire his failings, his quirkiness, his obsessions while he is still around.

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