PARTAB RAMCHAND | 8 AUGUST, 2019
Steve Smith Is The Best Australian Batsman Since Don Bradman
The 30-year-old former captain is in a league of his own
If the just concluded Test match between England and Australia is any indication then we are in for a pulsating World Test Championship. After all let us not forget amidst all the drama and excitement of the topsy turvy happenings at Edgbaston that it was the inaugural match of the eagerly awaited WTC and no one could have asked for a more fitting start to a competition designed to give the sport’s traditional format a fillip.
The Aussies are cricket’s traditional fighters and the phrase “no match is lost till it is won’’ was no doubt coined keeping them in mind. And if there is one cricketer who epitomizes this never say die attitude it has to be Steve Smith. It is fine to be prodigiously talented and have an effective if unusual technique but all this can count for nothing if not accompanied by a strong temperament. And in this department the 30-year-old former captain is in a league of his own. Anyone who has been through what Smith has been through the last 16 months thanks to his role in the ball tampering controversy – facing a one year ban, being the subject of ridicule and abuse, being emotionally scarred by events underlined by his weeping openly at the press conference in the wake of the scandal – would have been a mental wreck. Not Smith who is obviously made of sterner stuff. He quickly put all that happened behind him, concentrated fully on making his comeback a success. Mentally and physically he prepared feverishly for the Ashes series and by the time of the first Test doing well became an obsession with him. The result of all this is what one saw at Edgbaston.
At a venue which was regarded as England’s bastion Smith virtually singlehandedly rescued Australia on the opening day. From 122 for eight Australia recovered to post a challenging total of 284 thanks to Smith’s 144. Then after England obtained a lead of 90 runs it was that man Smith again this time coming up with 142 that pinned the home team on the defensive. By now the hunter had become the hunted and Australia against all odds registered a convincing victory.
As if he had not been through enough Smith had to encounter hostile spectators who taunted him throughout the eleven hours he spent at the crease over two innings, calling him all sorts of names and holding taunting banners associated with the ball tampering issue. But Smith in his cocoon immersed himself in it and totally impervious to the surroundings and seemingly with blinkers and ear plugs just batted on and on and on concentrating only on the job ahead – to rescue Australia and then put them on the road to victory.
There was always going to be additional pressure on Smith coming back to the Test arena after a year long ban. Yes, similar bans had also been imposed on David Warner and Cameron Bancroft for their role in the ball tampering incident at Cape Town in March last year. However good Warner is as a batsman and however talented Bancroft is Smith enjoys a status that is much higher. After all he was the captain when the incident occurred but more important it is his stature as a batsman that gives him an aura that perhaps no other cricketer in the contemporary game has – not Virat Kohli, not Joe Root, not Kane Williamson.
Yes Kohli is acknowledged to be the best batsman across the three formats but when it comes to Test cricket Smith is way ahead of the three challengers. A favourite pastime among cricket fans is to pick the best Australian batsman since Don Bradman. Of course the player has to be someone very special to be elevated to this exalted status and the pre eminent names doing the rounds over the years have been those of Neil Harvey, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting. But on sheer stats Smith is way ahead of the competition. Indeed he was well on track to become Australia’s best batsman since Bradman only to fall from grace. But events at Edgbaston only augmented the vastly held opinion. There can be no doubt whatsoever now that he is Australia’s best batsman since Bradman. Indeed with 286 runs already behind him he has a good chance to overhaul one of the great man’s famous records which has stood since 1930 – most number of runs in a Test series (974).
One of the criteria for a truly great batsman is a career average in the mid-fities. Smith averages 62.96 over 65 Tests. Another indication of an all time great is a century every four Tests. Smith has 25 hundreds and that’s almost a century every 2-1/2 Tests. There are only three batsmen who average over 60 after playing 50 Tests Bradman, Smith and England’s Herbert Sutcliffe. Smith’s unusual technique, his powers of dedication, determination and concentration and his ideal temperament which sees him perform at his best when the chips are down all combine to make him a formidable opponent and the most difficult batsman to bowl to in the contemporary game. He is the quintessential Aussie fighter with all the strokes in the book and then some of his own.