Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Orville Higgins | Smith’s greatness unappreciated

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Australia’s Steven Smith bats during day one of the first Ashes Test cricket match between England and Australia at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England, on Thursday, August 1, 2019.

One of my pet peeves in any cricket discussion is when people use style and aesthetic appeal to rate one batsman ahead of another with clearly superior numbers.

As a result of this, some great batsmen do not get the credit they deserve because they don’t have the box office appeal of others with far less impressive numbers.

The Australian Steven Smith is a perfect case in point. When casual cricket fans get together to talk about great batsmen, his name does not evoke the same admiration as a Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar. After his masterful 144 in the first innings of the current Ashes Test, Smith’s Test average is now a shade over 62.

For the record, Lara and Tendulkar are 52 and 53, respectively.

When you break down Smith’s statistics, you will find that he doesn’t get these incredible numbers by gorging on the minnows. In 65 Tests, Smith has only played twice against Bangladesh. Interestingly enough, he averages only 29 against them. He has never played against Zimbabwe. He averages at least 40 or more against every other team. He has scored a jaw-dropping 24 centuries in those 65 games. Only the incomparable Don Bradman has ranked higher than him on the ICC’s batting points list. Despite this, he doesn’t get the same respect from cricket fans.

It’s not as if he only performs in familiar home conditions either.

Yes, he averages a staggering 77 in the 28 games he has played in Australia, but in overseas Tests, he is averaging 52. This man is as close to a runs machine as anything the game has seen since Bradman, and yet he is simply not rated the way he should.

He does not have Lara’s flair. He does not have Tendulkar’s copy- book technique. He does not have Ricky Ponting’s wide array of shots. He does not come out to bat to blast the opposition into submission. He isn’t the most watchable batsman ever.

Unrivalled concentration

What he has is arguably the greatest powers of concentration in the modern game, a rock-solid defence, the discipline and will to wait and play the shots he feels gives him the best chance to score, and a temperament that is unfazed by pressure or scoreline or bowlers. Cricket watchers have done Smith an injustice because of our penchant for the spectacular as opposed to the solid and dependable.

The irony is that while we are preoccupied with style in batting, we do not pay the same emphasis to what looks good in the other facets of the game.

We do not rate a bowler because of aesthetics. We want him to take wickets for as few runs as possible. We don’t mind how the wicketkeeper looks. If he takes the catches and don’t miss the stumpings, we are happy. Yet batsmen have to tick another box to be given full marks. They have to be attractive to watch – it is unfair.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Steven Smith is without doubt the greatest Test batsman in the modern game, and if you take away Bradman, he is arguably the best ever.