“I remember Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell getting into me quite a bit,” Steve Smith was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo about the 2013 England tour. “I don’t think they really rated the way I played. But maybe I’ve changed their views now perhaps a little bit.”
The views, at least before the Ashes 2015, haven’t changed, even after Smith’s heroics in the home series against India, 2015 World Cup and the successful tour of the West Indies. In England, many still doubt his technique and were surprised seeing him occupy the top spot in the ICC Rankings.
Former England off-spinner Graeme Swann was critically vocal.
“Weakness will emerge with Steve Smith. He’s not like a Steve Waugh – a nugget with no obvious ways of getting him out. I hope for England’s sake that he’s a flash in the pan. He doesn’t strike fear in you like the Aussies used to, with a Matthew Hayden or an Adam Gilchrist,” said Swann.
Smith was trying to establish his Test credentials during the 2013 Ashes in England. Before the series he played only seven Tests and was yet to cross the three-figure mark. The transition from Smith-the-bowler to Smith-the-batsman had commenced but was not into fifth gear yet.
Five testing outings, 345 runs, one hundred and two fifties is what the right-hander managed in the series which his side lost 3-0.
Post the forgettable series, Super Steve turned a corner. He scored two sublime hundreds in the home Ashes and was impressive in South Africa before feasting on India in the four-match Test series. The 26-year-old was in supreme form and smashed 769 runs in his eight outings with the bat.
Four hundreds and an average of 128.16 announced Smith-the-batsman on the big stage.
Smith’s batting is not meant for the critic’s eye. He might not appear to be the most technically sound around but has his own way of doing things. Take the India series for instance, the Indian seamers kept bowling that middle-leg line hoping for the possible LBW.
They tried, they failed and he scored. Scored in plenty.
The head over the ball, weight forward and elbow straight position is the last thing we could expect when Smith’s in the middle. He had this problem of nicking the moving ball early in his career but has made those little adjustments to counter the swinging cherry.
In the series against India, Smith would make very little movement when the ball was doing a bit. Once he got his eye in, he would do that regular shuffle towards off and flick anything and everything off his pads. Against the spinners he didn’t shy away from putting the dancing shoes on or using the depth of the crease to punish anything short.
Against England, and in England, though, Smith would like to improve his record. The right-hander averages a mediocre 34.23 in the seven matches he has played against the English side. This is a substantial dip from his career average of 56.23.
With form and confidence on his side, there can’t be a better time and stage to silence his ‘England’ critics. Should he do that, Australia can well fancy ending the 14-year wait of winning the urn in England.