Steven Smith is fidgety. He’s unorthodox. He’s restless. He might look like a kid in a candy store but at the crease resembles a cat on a hot tin roof.
He’s at his busiest in the time leading up to him settling in his stance. There’s the tug at the sleeve, that’s the adjustment of the helmet, the slight nudge to the bat handle, and a couple of more flexes and tics. But there are few batsmen in world cricket going around presently who possess a wider array of strokes than the Australian Test No.5, even some that he dishes out might be best described as being ‘stunts performed by professionals, and best not to be attempted at home’.
Like was the case when he decided to take on India’s fastest bowler, Varun Aaron, and send him to the cleaners. It was a sign to the opposition that he was here to take them head-on and finish them off, psychologically atleast. Smith hit three boundaries in all, each more audacious than the previous.
The first was a swat. A short delivery from Aaron around off-stump that Smith slapped straight back past the bowler, the second a smear over mid-wicket from a full delivery that pitched on middle and off. Then he went umpire-hunting again by crashing another length delivery over Ian Gould’s head for the third boundary. By the end of that over, Smith had already cruised to 131.
Like with every Smith innings, you simply couldn’t make out when and how he got near a century without ever playing a shot of major significance.
He simply kept inventing shots, and defending well. Two overs later it was Mohammad Shami’s turn to be hit the full distance as the youngster laid into him, careening him for two boundaries. By now Smith was well past his century, and fast approaching yet another milestone. He had never gone past 150 in a Test innings. He cruised past it here. On Wednesday, he figured that both the pitch and the Indian bowlers were under his sleeve. Probably in many ways he lodged them there.
If David Warner had pummelled them into submission on the opening day of the series, Smith’s carnage was the ultimate humiliation. His audacity rubbing the ignominy in, and ruining the Indian bowling figures further. Eventually he finished unbeaten on 165, with the Australian score reading 517 for 7 in a day that only saw 30 overs bowled and the teams scampering on and off the field repeatedly due to an intermittent drizzle.
Somehow it’s unlikely that Smith will make a great first impression on you, at least in terms of his potential success in Test cricket. Mainly owing to his twitchy approach to batting. But not only did he prove his effectiveness here at the Adelaide Oval, he also exposed the soft underbelly of the Indian bowling attack.
In Tests overseas, India have had a reputation of being a team whose wheels come off completely even if one cog in it goes amiss. Here, the entire network of their attack was in tatters. If Ishant Sharma had been the pick of the bowlers on the opening day, he was as ragged as his pace partners on Day Two.
Waiting for opportunity
He was wayward, inconsistent and hardly on the money. Smith, on the other hand, just sat waiting for the loose delivery, which came ever so often, and he pounced on them.
There’s hardly a shot of Smith’s that really stands out for its aesthetic value. But when in full flow, there are few batsmen who can hit strokes around the dial like he can. He started the day with a square drive off Shami, and before long was flicking and slashing the Indian pacers to all parts. Like Clarke, he kept using the crease and his feet against Karn Sharma, and also pulled out the reverse-sweep whenever required.
Virat Kohli at times didn’t help their cause by keeping his field in no-man’s land, in the sense neither defending nor attacking. Singles were easily accessible, and the gaps were abundant. Smith made the most of them.
And when he did get to his century, he rushed towards the 408 etched on the grass, pointed at it and raised his bat to the skies. Later he spoke about having used the forced time-out to plan his celebration. India were only thankful that he didn’t spend the same time planning their downfall to a graver extent, which will now be left to the likes of Mitchell Johnson & Co as the visitors brace up to a baptism by fire in the third day’s play at Adelaide.