March 16, 2013

The Steven Smith innings o' meter

Will he be boy genius or imitation ectoplasm of Shane Warne, in Mohali?

When will cricketers learn? Running about during a game is dangerous enough, but exerting yourself physically before the thing has even started is just asking for trouble. The proper preparation for Test cricket, as we all know, is a pot of Darjeeling, a slice of fruit cake and a satisfying pre-prandial puff on a pipefull of Old Peculiar.

Matthew Wade does at least deserve some credit for eschewing the clichéd methods of rendering yourself useless, such as dislocating your big toe playing keepy-uppy or rupturing yourself in a game of Ligament Rugby. Instead, he's gone for the trendier self-immobilising option and sprained himself while shooting some hoops.

Unfortunately, thanks to Homeworkgate, the Australian squad was already several clowns short of a circus and Wade's basketball boo-boo has further reduced their numbers, rendering roving pin-sticker Rod Marsh redundant. What does a selector do when there's no one to select? He's spent the last few days wandering around forlornly, looking for something upon which to exercise his powers of selection. He's already rearranged the sun loungers in the roof garden of the Titanic Hotel, and at the time of writing is trying to decide whether to open with the pakoras or the kebabs.

Australia's main pre-match dilemma was where to hide Phil Hughes. Ideally he'd be secreted in a discreet fold of space-time somewhere between Doherty and Lyon. But it's better for his self esteem to be giving his wicket away where it matters, rather than when the innings is almost over; so he has to bat, albeit briefly, at three.

With Hughes at three and Clarke at four, who did that leave? As Sherlock Holmes would have put it, once you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, however improbable, is that Steven Smith must be batting at five. But we need not fear. Steven is the epitome of the phrase "make yourself useful, son", and has adapted himself to his changing environment like a particularly persistent species of algae.

First he was compared to Shane Warne, although he brought that on himself by being blond and bowling legspin. Then he got some Twenty20 work, smashing the ball about from a non-specific location in the batting order, and so, knowing that the career of an Australian spinner these days is as short and fragile as the life-cycle of a mayfly, he cannily reinvented himself as a batsman. He was definitely the hero of day two.

The punters at the PCA Stadium may not have agreed. They'd paid to see S Tendulkar and MS Dhoni in Supersonic Batting Hero, but instead found themselves watching Sensible and Sensibler, a genteel comedy of manners, sans bonnets, starring Warner and Cowan.

Matters were enlivened on 139 for 0 when Warner popped one up, Dhoni scampered round like an eager puppy who'd spotted a liver sausage falling from an aeroplane carrying dodgy processed meat products, and spectators woke up as one. Wickets ensued, as per. But not Steven Smith's wicket. The Dobermann of Dogged Defence was unbeaten at the end.

I should at this point, declare an interest.

1. Steven Smith once signed a contract with Worcestershire, so is clearly a likeable, self-effacing young man with a healthy sense of humour.

2. I backed him to top-score for Australia at odds that if not eye-watering, are at least eye-moistening, and possibly wallet-enlivening.

At the time of writing Smith is 58 not out, poised like a praying mantis to gobble up the puny fly that is Ed Cowan's 86. However, I know that in the egg and spoon race of life, even when you are in sight of victory, fate can stick out a scrawny foot and have you spiralling boot over bottom over egg, like a Spaniard who's just spotted a penalty area.

So this post has two endings.

Ending A reads: "Steven Smith, the Caractacus of Cameo, came of age in a glorious innings of 87 (or more) that will live long in the annals of our game, and that, under the McCullum Ranking System, would surely place him in the top three batsmen of all time."

Ending B reads: "Steven Smith, a Shane Warne tribute act without the meat pies, cigarettes or celebrity fiancée, embarrassed us all with a woefully inept innings of 85 (or less) confirming himself for all time as the Moliere of Middle Order Muppetry."

Delete as applicable.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England