August 23, 2013

Steve Smith? Who'da thunk it?

All of us who wrote him off when we heard he had been picked for the Ashes will now proceed to eat our hats

And he can play cricket too © Getty Images

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.

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