It was summer of 2013 when Australia under the captaincy of Michael Clarke had decided to recall the ‘leg-spinner’ Steve Smith to bat at number 5. Many doubted the move but not only did Steve Smith prove his critics wrong, but his fans as well were surprised.
Steve Smith finished the Ashes 2013 in England with an average of just over 38, scoring 345 in 10 innings, which looked good for a ‘leg-spinner’, but quite average for a number 5 batsman. He scored one hundred and 2 fifties. Australia, however, lost the Ashes in England 3-0, but selectors still had high hopes for Steve Smith the batsman.
Many experts around the world were still doubting the capabilities and temperament of Steve Smith as a batsman. His technique was all over the place, he was chasing after the wide balls, and frequently edging them to the slips. In general, the cricket fraternity was quite ‘shocked’ to see Australia backing a bowler to bat for them at the number 5 position. But little did everyone knew what Steven Peter Devereux Smith had in his mind.
Later in 2013, when England toured Australia for the return Ashes series, Steve Smith was still batting at number 5 and had scored only 60 runs in 4 innings, after first 2 Tests. However, selectors and Michael Clarke backed Smith for the 3rd Test, not wanting to alter the winning combination. Steve Smith was to play an innings of his life that would completely change how the people perceived him as a batsman in Tests.
With the top 3 in Chris Rogers, David Warner and Shane Watson, back in the shed, Australia looked in deep trouble, especially with Steve Smith struggling, and an out of form George Bailey, it looked like Australia won’t get the average par total at W.A.C.A. But Steve Smith decided to do something, which would go on to confuse every bowler in upcoming years.
Steve Smith took a leg guard and walked to off stump as the bowler was about to hit his bowling stride. Smith continued doing this for next 207 balls before he edged one off James Anderson. However, in the process, he had scored a much-needed ton, with the help of that huge shuffle across the stumps and had left everyone gobsmacked.
The ‘shuffle’ that basically left cricket greats doubting Steve Smith’s capabilities was about to torment bowlers around the world everywhere. It was a technique that was working for him and continued doing so.
However, his struggle continued in the next three innings, but with Australia dominating, Steve Smith was able to save his place in the Test squad.
While everyone still doubted his place, a lie from Australia’s batting consultant before the final Test at Sydney, gifted international cricket a batsman, who would end up averaging more than 60 in Tests, score a Test Ton in every continent and break many of the world records in batting.
In Steve Smith’s own words, in an interview to news.com.au, he revealed the lie, that the then Australia’s batting coach Michael Di Venuto had told.
“I asked Australian batting coach Michael Di Venuto what was going on because I felt like I was hitting them well,” Smith explained. “He said ‘you’re not out of form, you’re just out of runs.”
It is fair to say that post those lies from Di Venuto, Steve Smith has gone on to torment every bowler in Test cricket or cricket in general, from James Anderson in England to Ravichandran Ashwin in India.
Innings that changed it all for Steve Smith
While Steve Smith has played some remarkable innings for Australia in the Baggy Green, from scoring a double ton at Lord’s to carrying his bat at Ranchi. It was his innings against South Africa, in 2014 that changed it all.
In the same interview, Steve Smith, revealed, “It was the hundred against South Africa at Centurion,” he said. “Playing against their attack, which is one of the best in the world, to know I can do that gives me the belief I can do it anywhere.”
The innings, Steve Smith spoke about was the one innings where he took agonizing 42 balls to get through the 90s.
Despite starting his career as a leg-spinner, Steve Smith has scored 23 Test centuries and still remains the only batsman in the current era to have reached 941 ranking points, second best only to Sir Don Bradman.
His hundred in Adelaide Test 2014 will always remain special. After the recent ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, his image as an upright captain has been bit tainted. However, as a batsman who proved that mental strength matters more than technique, it will be a huge delight to have him back with the bat in hand, once he has served the ban.