Steve Smith: Redemption song now a chartbuster
Among batsmen to score 600 plus in an Ashes series in England, Steve Smith is only behind the Don, who amassed 974 runs at an average of 139.14 from seven innings with four 100-plus knocks in the 1930 series in EnglandUpdated: Sep 10, 2019 10:17 IST
When Steve Smith landed in England with the Australia team in late May, he was chasing redemption. A year-long ban in the ball-tampering saga had tarnished his image and the batsman stripped of Australia captaincy also had to focus on regaining his form. A repaired elbow was on the mend, and IPL team Rajasthan Royals had made him welcome by restoring captaincy to him.
As Smith left Old Trafford with his rejoicing teammates on Sunday, it wasn’t his cricketing pride alone that had been restored; the redemption was for the Australian team and they had his sensational batting to thank.
The man had virtually come in from the cold, galvanised a team that had not won or drawn an Ashes series in England since 2001 with the sheer force of his bat. And he has also made light of the concussion caused by a blow to the neck off a Jofra Archer delivery at Lord’s that could have left a lesser batsman shaken.
Smith eventually did miss the third Test at Headlingley, which England won by one wicket in dramatic fashion to keep alive hopes of regaining the Ashes urn. However, Smith’s 211 and 82 that set up the big win in the fourth Test showed it may not have come down to Ben Stokes’s heroics at Leeds if Smith had not been forced to sit out and prevented Australia’s batting from failing in the second innings.
As Australia lead the Ashes series 2-1 going into the final Test, starting at the Oval on Thursday, Smith, the No 1 Test batsman, is truly on a Bradmanesque plane. Having scored three centuries—he made 144 and 142 in the first Test win in Edgbaston and 92 in the Lord’s first innings—he has a series aggregate of 671 at an average of 134.20 from five innings.
Among batsmen to score 600 plus in an Ashes series in England, he is only behind the Don, who amassed 974 runs at an average of 139.14 from seven innings with four 100-plus knocks in the 1930 series in England.
Smith can go past at least one Bradman record when the Oval Test is done, especially with the England bowlers showing no signs they have found a way to breach his defence.
If Smith bats just once and remains 5 not out in the Test, he will end up with an average higher than Bradman’s 139.14. If he is out once, he will need a match aggregate of 164, and if dismissed twice, he must score 303.
Among batsmen to aggregate 600 plus runs in a series, the highest average is Bradman’s 201.50 (806 runs, home series vs South Africa 1931-32).
Smith’s current series showing is only ninth, while his 2017-18 Ashes effort at home—687 runs at an average of 137.40—is seventh. Sunil Gavaskar is fourth (774 @ 154.80 in West Indies, 1970-71) and Virat Kohli fifth (610 @ 152.50, vs SL in India 2017-18). Bradman also occupies the second spot in that elite list—715 runs @ 178.75 vs India in Australia, 1947-48)—with Jacques Kallis third (712 @ 178.00 vs WI in South Africa).
JEERS TO CHEERS
Smith’s appetite for runs in this Ashes series has banished doubts if he would be in a mental state to deliver in the oldest bilateral contest in cricket. When the last wicket fell at Old Trafford though, those English fans wearing ‘weeping Smithy’ masks to unnerve him had dwindled, and the man himself was rejoicing with his teammates mid pitch.
Australia as a nation was aghast when the ball-tampering scandal broke in South Africa in March last year. No punishment was deemed enough when Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were handed suspensions. However, when former England fast bowler and 2005 Ashes hero Steve Harmison said in post-match comments that Smith would be a ‘cheat’ forever, it sounded like sour grapes.
NOT ENTIRELY NEW
There are mitigating circumstances. A probe acknowledged Smith was far from the central figure. Though as skipper, he had a lot to answer for. There have been many ball-tampering cases, and a few famous names too have been penalised.
None triggered the kind of uproar it did in Australia. However unacceptable, altering the condition of the ball can at times appear like a footballer taking red card for the team. Remember Luiz Suarez’s cynical handling on the goalline against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup? His fans though saw that as a sacrifice.
Smith is no stranger to strife, though he would do anything to wipe out the tampering taint. In 2013, on the India tour, the fringe member who also bowled leg-spin, got to play the third Test at Mohali only after four members—Shane Watson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Johnson—were suspended for the game on disciplinary grounds in what is known as ‘Homeworkgate’.
Smith responded with 92 at No 5 in that defeat, and rapidly rose to succeed Michael Clarke as batting lynchpin first, and skipper after that .
Smith is back as world No 1 in Test rankings, moving ahead of Kohli. But as the England bowlers continue their search for a way through the defence of a fidgety Smith, they will be wary of the Australian batsman’s hunger for more.
First Published: Sep 10, 2019 09:54 IST