Rahul Dravid was one of the quietest bidders in the IPL 7 auction in Bangalore. Typical to his style, he just sat at the Rajasthan Royals table and went discreetly about his business. The recent retiree from T20 franchise cricket was said to have his player targets set at the side’s mentor. And right at the very top of that list was Steven Smith, going purely by his aggressive bidding for the Australian all-rounder.
Smith was purchased by Dravid and RR for Rs 4 crore, a hundred per cent rise from his base price of Rs 2 crore. Then, many months later, Smith repaid that faith with a dead batted block and a scampered two in the Super Over against Kolkata Knight Riders when perhaps anybody else in that situation would have preferred to go for a rope-clearing hit.
But this was precisely what Smith was paid big money for — to keep his head during high-pressure situations.
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Smith arrived at IPL 7 on the heels of a very productive season for Australia in Test cricket. Beginning with his 92 against India in Mohali, when the once leg-spinner proved that he could bat, and all the way through the lost Ashes series in England (where he scored his maiden Test century at the Oval), Smith was the one big positive in a failing team.
While few mention any other name apart from Mitchell Johnson’s when talking about Australia’s re-emergence, Smith surely played his role with three centuries — two in the Ashes and one in South Africa. Which is what makes his omission from Australia’s shorter format squads a real surprise. Smith not only missed the recent World T20, but was also absent from Australia’s canary yellow squads in the T20 series against South Africa and England.
What the Aussie selectors couldn’t see, however, Rajasthan’s Dravid did. Not long after he became a free agent after his previous side Pune Warriors was dissolved, Smith was put in the crosswires of the inaugural champions. Playing for a better team and being assured of a first team berth as an impact player, he now has the opportunity to prove his short-format mettle in T20’s most competitive stage.
(Shamik is a principal correspondent, based in Kolkata)