Days before the start of the series, Indian veteran Harbhajan Singh predicted that India will win 3-0, if Australia play well. Well, not just Harbhajan, in fact, many cricket followers and some big names in the fraternity had similar thoughts regarding Australia’s fate in the Indian subcontinent. Steven Smith came out hard in the first Test at Pune and smashed a ton, of course, it had it’s share of glitches, and gave Australia a hope. It wasn’t just a hope, it was an opportunity to ponder and a tantalising one for a victory. Steven O’Keefe spun a series of web around Indian batsmen as Australia created a huge upset by thrashing India by a record 333-run to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Critics were silent, India were at sixes and sevens and Australia now started believing in themselves with an emphatic win at Pune.
How often do we see a cricketer debuting as a bowler and then transforming into a batsman?
Well, not just a batsman but one of the finest batsmen. It does not happen very often and Smith’s case is an oddity. Smith’s irresistible rise as a batsman from a chubby leg-spinner has been overwhelming. He has not just mastered batting against the white ball but also in the longest format, which is considered to be toughest among all. When Smith was appointed as the skipper of Australia, he was sitting at the pinnacle of ICC Test batsman ranking and had hardly to do anything with bowling. Such has been the transition from Smith the bowler to Smith the batsman.
Smith has been the talk of the town since the start of the series. Though many purists suggested that Smith will get runs in the series irrespective of how Australia fare, as he is among the cream of batsmen in contemporary cricket or even the finest for that matter. There have been talks about his unorthodox technique and survival in India but Smith has answered it all with a bang. Smith smashed his seventh ton in eight Tests against India, which is a testament to his ability to perform under pressure and diligent character.
When Australia last toured India in 2013, Steven Smith had zero Test centuries. Four years later, he has 20. #INDvAUS
— Brydon Coverdale (@brydoncoverdale) March 25, 2017
Smith’s batting style will hardly please any cricket purist, there is hardly any cultivated beauty but he does the job rather effectively. Despite the fidgety movements while batting at the crease, Smith is as composed as the universe when the ball reaches him. His unconventional stance and trigger movement towards the off-stump, make him a potential leg before candidate but his hand-eye co-ordination is rather so strong that he hardly provides any room for error. He is a master when it comes to piercing gaps and sneaking those singles, well capable of shifting gears and launch an attack on the opposition when needed. I may not be qualified to comment on his batting but Smith, so far, has not shown any signs of weakness in the series. He didn’t panic against spin and showed
I may not be qualified to comment on his batting but Smith, so far, has not shown any signs of weakness in the series. He didn’t panic against spin and showed sound technique in confronting it. In short, Smith is heretical yet persuasive. And his Test average of 61.05, just below Bradman (min 2000 runs), corroborates the belief. It is frequently said, more than reaching the top, sustaining it is more difficult. Smith has not only been there but also preserved the limelight.
Smith has been the thorn in India’s flesh in the ongoing series. His scores in the current competition read: 109, 27, 28,8, 21, 178*, 111, 17. He has scored runs on a consistent basis. In the series so far, Smith has achieved numerous milestones with the bat. He is now the only second overseas skipper to have scored three centuries in a series after Alastair Cook, overall, he is the sixth batsman to have achieved this feat. Smith is also the first Australian batsman to have plundered three centuries in a series in India.
— Brydon Coverdale (@brydoncoverdale) March 25, 2017
Smith’s evolution has happened at a brisk rate; for the fact that, he has scored 20 centuries within last four years, is no joke. And 99 innings, on a whole. He is behind the legendary Don Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar and Matthew Hayden, who reached the landmark in 55, 95 and 95 games respectively. But one also can’t ignore the fact that Smith started off as a bowler and took a while to establish himself as a batsman. Sachin Tendulkar scored 51 Test tons in a career spanning for 24 years and 2000 Tests. Smith has already reached 20 at the age of 27, and one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that he could go well past Tendulkar, provided he survives the Test arena for that long.
Smith has garnered 499 runs in 4 Tests so far at a staggering average of 71.28. He also did reasonably well in Sri Lanka averaging just over 41 with a determined ton in the series, where Australia were whitewashed. Unlike David Warner or even Cheteshwar Pujara, Smith is not a home bully. There is no massive difference in Smith’s batting average at home and overseas. Smith averages 68.65 at home and 55.84 on away venues as compared to his career average of 61.05. This is a demonstration of his effectiveness across the globe and Smith has done it in his own style.
India have never looked as if they had any kind of plan or strategy to get rid of Smith early on in the innings. He has looked extremely comfortable in confronting the Indian bowlers and his early fall has always been a boon for them. In the Dharamsala Test, Smith scripted history and looked on the top of his game. He scored 111 at a brisk pace and overshadowed the hard-hitting Warner in their 154-run stand for the second wicket. India tried everything possible on the cricket field to get him during the Dharamsala Test, but each move turned out to be futile.
Smith proved his strong character and individuality in the Ranchi Test. After the whole ‘brain-fade’ episode at Bangalore, cricket resumed at Ranchi. With series being evenly poised, the intensity was on another level. Smith remained unaffected with all the ruckus off the field and scored an unbeaten 178 only to leave India in a state of turmoil after the first innings.
India won the series 2-1, but Smith can walk with his head high. He’s been a warrior, and has fought his battle well but lost the war. He has only positives to take from this series, his confidence might be scaling a new high for the fact that he dominated Indian bowlers in their backyard, which is rare. And it won’t be wrong to say that Smith will easily make to Australia’s All-Time XI by the time he retires.