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August 23, 2013

Steve Smith? Who'da thunk it?

Matt Cleary
And he can play cricket too  © Getty Images
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Sure. The Oval pitch is flatter than a highway out of Adelaide. The Poms picked young Woakes instead of Frankenstein's unholy monster, Chris Tremlett. And they went with two spinners on a deck that hasn't spun, at least not a lot yet. And sure, it was a pretty bloody good toss to win.

But in the current climate of Australian cricket, when the top six have scored less than Warney in a particularly hard maths test, and the Ashes, again, what have we done, oh Lord Mr Lillee, remain with Ye Olde England for another few months at least, you take dual Test tons where you get 'em. And then you roll about in them like kids in warm autumn leaves and praise the batters like they've invented something amazing.

Amazing? How about that square-drive Steve Smith hit off Stuart Broad? What a shot. Sa-moked it. Leaned back a little, summed up the length, trusted his eye, freed his arms and fairly thrashed that bad boy flat along the ground and into the hoarding just behind point. Middle of the willow, baby. Thock. Top. Freakin'. Shot.

And just to add a chapter in his personal Book For Boys Adventure Stories, Our Smithy, on 94, brings up his hundred with a monster whack down the ground and out of the playing arena for a massive sixer. Bloody beaudiful.

On top of that, the maligned Shane Watson belts young Kerrigan out of the attack, wears an 88-mile-an-hour bouncer flush on the neck and carries on to smash 176. Sure - dropped on 104. The pitch was not doing a lot. But my, it was a very fine Test cricket innings. And as a fan you'd hope the floodgates open for Watto because he's really good to watch. When he's batting, that Duke pill can howl.

Of course his predilection for plonking the front pad at the ball when it's aimed directly at the stumps will mean he's out quite a lot leg before wicket. He will need to work on that technical aspect of his batsmanship. But if he can smash 176 more often than not before he does get fired, well, carry on, Shane-o, nothing to see here. And then on top of that, James Faulkner throws the bat for a fun-filled 20-odd before my man Ryan Harris smashes a couple of big sixes on the way to 33 off not that many. Beaudiful.

Like I said - been a lean enough Pommie summer.

Steve Smith? What a knock. We've always known he could throw the bat, had a keen eye and fast hands. We've always known he could throw himself around the field like a spawning salmon in creams. But this? An unbeaten 138 off 241 balls across six hours and 22 minutes? Steve Smith did this?

He's copped a fair bit over the years, SPD Smith, and this journo has both hands in the air. Honestly didn't think he had it. Wasn't sure if he was a legspinner who threw the bat or a batter who threw the bat. Super T20 player, sure. Seems a good and unaffected fellah. But I didn't think he could play Test cricket. When he even made this Ashes Test squad I remember writing "Steve Smith?" And people understood, and wrote back, asking: "Steve Smith?"

But here he is, Steve Smith. And bloody good luck to him.

Instead I hitched my proverbial word-wagon to Usman Khawaja, whom aesthetically I could watch bat all day. Velvet, baby. Problem is, Usman's lasted a lot less than a day on the nine (9) occasions he's had a bat this tour. Dud call in the Manchester Test. Later bowled round his legs by the super-tricky and cunning Graeme Swann. But you hit the ball middle of the bat and you take several methods of dismissal out of the equation.

Anyway - this is Steve Smith's time. And I'm happy to put the hand up and eat the cold custard bowl of got-it-wrongness.

Good fellah. Good luck to him.

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Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (August 25, 2013, 10:34 GMT)

If Steve Smith is the solution, then Australia clearly have an almighty problem to solve.

Posted by brittop on (August 25, 2013, 8:40 GMT)

@SDH12: You're right. Two decent innings when batting first on the back of large hundreds by team mates. Batting 2nd and 4th, with a bit more pressure, he's averaging under 16.

Posted by Raghzzz on (August 25, 2013, 8:32 GMT)

Guys.. I like this bloke.. he's the quintessential new age cricketer.. a non conformist to conventional wisdom of test cricket.. but he's got the ticker..

take it from me.. he's gonna finish with something like 8000 runs in test cricket.. may not end up with 10k only because in this new age they may not play enough test cricket.. this guy has the ticker.. he's only going to grow from here..

Posted by brittop on (August 25, 2013, 0:17 GMT)

Think @SDH12 is spot on. Smith has two scores of note in the first innings of the match on the back of large hundreds by other players. When the pressure is on batting 2nd and 4th, he's averaging lees than 16.

Posted by Chris_P on (August 25, 2013, 0:14 GMT)

@SDH12. While your comment suits for the only time you have noticed, I have seen this new attitude of his for the past 3 seasons where he has consciously improved his technique, application & patience to tough it out. I have seen plenty of this for NSW, which led to his selection to India, where he performed with great credit for his 92 in Mohali(I think it was). This knock at The Oval was a continuation of his transformation not the start. @German Player, the same weakened attack that included Broad/Anderson & Swann that helped defeat India? No ashes test, my friend, is meaningless, not one. I guess it must be something only Aussie & Pommy fans really understand.

Posted by   on (August 24, 2013, 17:48 GMT)

Great article !!! . Almost good as steve smith's knock :)

Posted by SDHM on (August 24, 2013, 12:45 GMT)

Sorry, don't see this as any sort of breakthrough. Flat pitch, green (and in one case, deathly nervous) attack, absolutely no pressure on. It should be a good confidence booster, but it also shouldn't hide the fact that whenever the pressure's really been on, Smith's still looked like a rabbit in the headlights. If anything, for that very reason, the 50 he got at Trent Bridge was a better innings.

Posted by   on (August 24, 2013, 8:51 GMT)

Why did people write him off? If a civilian like me can see potential in him, i wonder how experts like your self and the cricket fraternity cant see that?He bowls well, is a great fielder and can bat strong...maybe i should be the expert?

Posted by   on (August 23, 2013, 23:33 GMT)

@GermanPlayer's ignorance is showing. Firstly, Anderson, Braod and Swann hardly constitute a weakened attack and I would say those three would be, along with South Africa (Steyn, Morkel and Philander) and Australia (Harris, Siddle and Starc as the top three "bowling threesomes" in world cricket. Also, no Ashes test is meaningless and Australia had so much on the line- basically Smith's future was in question. Smith has always been a good batsman - it was only when people tried to turn him into bowler that his batting went amiss....

Posted by Beertjie on (August 23, 2013, 21:31 GMT)

Agreed @GermanPlayer - Smith and Watson need to back up in Oz if they are to regain the public's confidence. As has been said before, if Smith can work on his bowling he can become a poor man's Benaud. Hope he continues to improve as a batsman. If he does, he could become a true stalwart.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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