The preamble: Yasir Shah might live to regret his gesticular indiscretion after castling Steve Smith in Brisbane-as Smith was walking past him, he put seven fingers up to convey the number of times he had dismissed him, the joint highest with Stuart Broad, though in half as many face-offs (10 as opposed to 26). He might have only succeeded in “waking up the beast”, as the Australian batting colossus has responded with these words: “I am motivated, particularly after he put his fingers up … that he got me seven times.”
He further pointed out that on several instances he was in pursuit of quick runs-cheap wickets, as he puts it, and perhaps the reason he was surprised that he had dismissed him so frequently-but it doesn’t deflect from the fact that the Pakistani leggie has been the most successful bowler against Smith. While Smith has generally looked comfortable in handling him-as he has against all assortments of bowler-he has had his troubles in negotiating the skidding top-spinners, like it was at the Gabba.
Gabba Evidence: Smith was slightly lazy, he didn’t shuffle across as much as he often does. A half-front-foot stride, marginal shuffle, and he tried to whip the ball through the leg-side. It’s his staple shot, only that he generally doesn’t attempt the shot so much away from the body as he had here. Usually, the back-leg covers the angle, the head is under the ball-the head here for a change was flickering-and shot tends to be more fluid. He ended up looking to have misjudged the drift of the ball, and consequently the line, or maybe, he mistook it for a googly that tends to turn more than the top-spinner that scudded on and went straight on.
Maybe, it was just that he tried the shot a tad too early in the innings, he had just faced 10 balls. Maybe, he was a bit overconfident, having smeared the previous delivery for a boundary with a similar stroke, albeit differently executed. On that occasion, he has shimmied down the surface and met the ball almost on the full. It seemed a momentary misjudgment than a tangible flaw, though it’s not the first time Yasir’s top-spinner had consumed him.
Successful, relatively: Like all great batsmen, Smith doesn’t have a specific weakness, he has meticulously ironed out whatever he had. He’s unique in that sense, looks fallible, yet infallible. But the top-spinner has reaped a fair deal of success against him. Shah had him dismissed once in Dubai with a ball that slid in and hurried into his pad. So had his leg-spin predecessor Danish Kaneria, twice in a Test, though Smith’s batting evolution was at its nascent stage.
Likewise, left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar too had trapped him in front with the slider. In fact, of the 13 times he had gotten out against Pakistan, 10 were authored by spinners. It probably says something about the type of attack that’s likeliest to succeed against him. Not that he’s uncomfortable against the away-going spinner’s slider-he still averages 55 against Pakistan, and 68.77 in matches Shah has featured—but based purely on numbers, the particular delivery holds a better chance of getting him out.
What lies ahead: Smith is not someone who is easily provoked, but he clearly was watching Shah’s ebullient celebrations. And he promised a better shift next time round: “I’m not overly worried about him but playing with a bit more discipline this week and hopefully will score some runs. I spoke to JL and I was like ‘how should I go about this, should I just take it on’. He said ‘just go out and entertain them, do what you want’.” Now this is bad news for Pakistan, the last thing they required in their bid to salvage the series. But the Smith-Shah contest—even though the protagonists in the day-night Test could be seamers—could enliven what has looked an unequal contest. A narrative thread for what has looked like a monologue.