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“Smith may have been away from international cricket for 12 months, but on Thursday against West Indies’ amazing pace bowling, Smith proved that he still remains the same class that always made Australia look more superior and extraordinary”

West Indies bounced out Pakistan in their opening encounter of World Cup 2019. That result boosted Jason Holder-led side’s confidence ahead of their next big match against defending champions Australia.

When Holder won the toss on Thursday at Trent Bridge, he immediately chose to field and executed the same plan as they had against Pakistan last week at the same ground. A series of wides, no balls and a dropped catch off free hit saw Australia sail to 10 for no loss at the end of the first over. Windies opening bowler Oshane Thomas and Sheldon Cottrell meanwhile continued to attack the Aussie batsmen with pace and bounce before captain Aaron Finch became their first victim.

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As many as 10 deliveries later, Australia suffered another blow as their key batsman David Warner was sent back to the dugout for a mere 3 runs off 8 balls. At 26 for 2, former Aussie captain Steve Smith walked out to take guard. It was a set platform for Smith, who was returning after a year’s suspension for his involvement in the infamous act of ball tampering, to once again make a special place for himself in the side. It is safe to say, Smith capitalised on the golden opportunity like never before.

In the past, Smith had saved Australia several times from situation like this, irrespective of the format so when he found himself in a similar scene on Thursday, he certainly would have felt himself in a known and comfortable place.

Also read: West Indies pay the price for complacency

As the West Indian pace attack grilled the Australian batsmen forcing them to rush into making mistakes, their efforts failed when Smith was on the strike. He received the same tactics from the opponents, but it looked like Smith managed to grab an extra second before playing the ball. He had the patience to watch the bowler deliver the ball, pick his proper shot and then execute it effortlessly. That detail set him apart from the rest of his teammates. There were times when Smith and Australia’s strike-rate and run-rate fell but that did not shake his temperament and he never felt the need to play a rash shot in an attempt to put the rate up.

Smith did not hesitate to respect and block good balls, relied on singles and doubles and went for a boundary only when he thought there was no risk there. From Andre Russell, Thomas, Holder to Carlos Braithwaite, all the Windies pacers slowly began to give up against Smith, who was in no mood to throw away his chance.

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According to the CricViz Analyst, Smith in comparison to his other teammates hardly played any false shot and that led to his match-saving knock of 73 from 103 balls including seven boundaries.

After struggling at 38 for 4 in eight overs, Australia managed to reach a competitive total of 288 and one of the major reasons for it was the foundation laid by Smith in the middle before Nathan Coulter-Bile capitalised on it down the order with a freak knock of 92 from 60 balls.

With the trend of big hitting and slogging in the current era of cricket, Smith reminded the cricket fraternity that the old school style of technique is still alive and can change the game around by taking minimal risks throughout the innings. Smith reached his half-century in 77 deliveries and he continued to anchor Australia’s innings even when Coulter-Nile went smashing around the park on the other end. While rescuing his side, Smith also ended all the criticism he had received earlier.

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After Smith’s poor show against Afghanistan in their World Cup opening match, former English spinner Graeme Swann had pointed out Smith’s performance. “Smith doesn’t look in great form and Australia doesn’t seem to be up with the modern game of hell for leather with the bat. Australia’s batting line-up, once Finch gets out — (Usman) Khawaja and (Steve) Smith come in, are not going to be explosive, they’re not going to try and play an explosive game. It’s not in their make-up,” Swann had said in Test match special.

Scrapping all those comments and early judgments, Smith, who just played his second game for Australia after his ban ended, showed everyone why the textbook style of batting remained as crucial as the big hits in ODI cricket these days. While Warner, Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, and Marcus Stoinis all crumbled going after quick runs with needless strokes but Smith held his nerves and played according to the conditions and the demand of the game situation.

Smith may have been away from international cricket for 12 months, but on Thursday against West Indies’ amazing pace bowling, Smith proved that he still remains the same class that always made Australia look more superior and extraordinary.

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