“About his batting there was no style for style’s sake. If there was to be any charm, that was for the spectator to find or miss. It was not Bradman’s concern. His aim was for the making of runs, and he made them in staggering and ceaseless profusion. He seems to have eliminated error, to have perfected the mechanism of stroke.”
R.C. Robertson-Glasgow was looking back at the career of the great man when he wrote the above for the 1949 edition of Wisden. Bradman had developed his own method of batting. It served him well, facilitating a level of run-scoring never before imagined and never since seen. Those methods propelled him miles ahead of every other player, enabling a dominance probably never experienced in the annals of sports.
His play did not conform to convention. His grip was all wrong. His bat rested between his feet in his stance, instead of behind his back-foot. His “pick-up” was towards point, rather than straight back, and he was frequently accused of playing across the line.
He made loads of runs in Australia as a young man. But when time came for him to travel to England for the 1930 Ashes, many doubted he’d be as successful. His suspect technique just would not suit English conditions. They were wrong, of course, and Bradman totally brutalized the English bowling. He scored 974 runs in five Tests, and the four centuries he compiled included a triple and two double centuries.
Bradman was, in short, a genius batsman who was unstoppable. His technique may not have adhered to the coaching manuals, but it worked quite well for him. His bat may not have always been straight, but runs flowed from it like no one had thought possible.
Australian captain Steve Smith’s technique has come under scrutiny as well. Like Bradman, he deviated from the coaching manuals and cultivated his own unique style. It has served him well too, supporting a run-scoring spree hardly seen since the days of Bradman.
Despite beginning his Test career as a leg-spinning allrounder who batted at eight in the order, Smith currently averages over 61. Only Bradman and former teammate Adam Voges appear ahead of him on the all-time list. And Voges played 20 Tests whereas he is already at 59.
His latest masterpiece was produced in the first innings of the current Perth Test. It was 55/2 when he arrived in the middle. By this time Craig Overton was in the middle of a challenging spell, during which he accounted for both wickets that fell, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. But Smith was immediately at ease. His third delivery was stroked past cover for four. “Beautiful, beautiful cricket shot,” remarked Kevin Pietersen on commentary. “We’re not gonna talk about technique at all, we’re gonna talk boundary, four. He finds a way, it’s his way. All that counts…boundary, four.” He then went on to erect a masterpiece in attacking batting hitting the English bowlers all over the WACA.
Pundits never tire of mentioning the uniqueness of his technique: his grip; his “pick-up” in the region of gully; his excessive movement at the crease; and his tendency to walk across his stumps. Bowlers, not unreasonably, often think they should bowl straight to him thinking his bat, presumably coming down at an angle and therefore slightly across the line, makes him a prime candidate to be dismissed LBW. But he hardly misses a ball on his legs. West Indies pacer Jerome Taylor actually executed that plan to perfection at Sabina Park in July 2015. But by that Smith was 199.
Players and coaches frequently worry too much about what is supposedly proper technique. A technique is only relevant to the extent that it enables the player to achieve his objectives. “The basic technique of a straight bat is sound for defence,” wrote Bradman. “However, there should be all possible emphasis on attack, on the aggressive outlook, and if the technique is going to prove the master of a player and not the servant, then it will not be doing its job.”
Hitting Across The Line is the title of Sir Viv’s first autobiography. He has spoken, on occasion, of others distrusting his technique when he arrived in England as a raw, young strokeplayer from Antigua: “When I first came to this country there were folks who felt I was coming from a hotter climate so I wouldn’t adapt to English conditions. They thought I wasn’t going to do well because of my style of play – of hitting across the line. I didn’t call it hitting across the line. I felt it was inventive…I felt I was an artist.” The “Master Blaster” went on to become one of the most dominant batsmen in the game’s history.
In Brisbane, during the first Test, Smith played altogether a different innings. The situation was different. The conditions were not as suited for batting and he played accordingly.
This last hundred was his quickest in Tests, made off 138 deliveries. Consuming 261 deliveries, his Brisbane hundred was his slowest. Circumspection was his primary concern in Brisbane. He hardly drove a ball through the off-side until he’d completed his century. Here, in Perth, he peppered the off-side boundary with multitudinous drives off front foot and back.
Smith went to bed on the second evening on 92 and during the fifth over of the third morning, he whipped Anderson off his legs to reach his 22nd Test century. But he wasn’t done yet, and in fact batted for the entire day, stretching his score to 229 not out. He passed much of the day with Mitchell Marsh, who had a spectacular innings as well, making his first Test hundred. At stumps, he was 181 not out, and they had added 301 runs together. England is getting a fearful pasting.
“He’s out!” was the newspaper headline that sometimes met a Bradman dismissal. How long before we start seeing similar ones for Smith?