When the 2013 Ashes kicked off, no one could have predicted that Steven Smith, of all people, would be in the list of top five run-getters in the series. With just one innings to go for Australia in the series, Smith is at the fifth position, behind Ian Bell, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke and ahead of some more illustrious opponents like Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott. Till the completion of the first innings of Australia at The Oval, Smith had notched up an impressive 338 runs in nine innings at an impressive average of 42.
Smith played a wonderful knock in the first innings of The Oval Test, thrashing the England bowlers to all parts of the park en route to his unbeaten 138. Of course the task was made simpler for Smith since Shane Watson finally delivered a brilliant performance at the top of the order. Watson’s knock gave Australia the much-needed momentum in the final Test, which Aussies are playing to save some pride. And while Watson’s innings was scintillating, Smith played an equally important role ensuring that Australia finish with a massive score in their first innings, and with a flourish.
Those who viewed Smith tear apart the England bowling would have been rather surprised at his batting skills for he entered international cricket with a reputation of a leg spinner who could bat a bit. However, his bowling has never taken off, but at the very same time his batting has gone from strength to strength. The comparative figures of Smith’s batting and bowling tell a story in itself. He has managed only eight wickets in his Test career, which is now in its 12th game, at an average touching nearly 50. In contrast, he has scored already scored 758 runs with the bat, with five 50s and hundred at an acceptable average of 36.
During this Ashes, Smith has been particularly defiant. His 53 at Nottingham was a solid knock, and he would have been disappointed not to have carried on to a bigger score. During his 89 at Manchester, he supported Michael Clarke in a stoic manner, and featured in the partnership which put Australia in the driver’s seat. It was only at The Oval that Smith opened up and batted like he is expected to, going after the bowling. Even that was only because Australia desperately wanted to declare.
Although Smith’s steady rise as a batsman has been surprising, he had given hints of things to come in the earlier games as well. In his very second Test, he made 77 against Pakistan at Leeds. In the New Year Ashes Test at Sydney in 2011, he compiled a fighting, unbeaten half-century, but yet was kept out of the Test team for the next two years, primarily because he failed as a leg-spinner. With Australia losing their batting stalwarts, Smith was given a chance to revive his career in India earlier this year. He made a composed 92 at Mohali, and has not looked back since.
--By A Cricket Analyst