Australia v India, World Cup 2015, 2nd semi-final, Sydney March 24, 2015

Steven Smith strays down leg

Taking guard outside his leg stump has helped return Steven Smith to the form he has displayed earlier in the summer
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Steven Smith bats outside leg stump to try and prevent bowlers from toppling him © Getty Images

Popular perception would have it that Steven Smith has been batting like a dream all summer. Earlier this week a Sydney newspaper published a breathless piece about how he was averaging close to 93 across Test and ODI formats this season, with comparisons made to Sir Donald Bradman. Yet struggles to maintain rhythm and bat swing are never far away.

Paradoxically, the sense of being in the best of form can actually sow the seeds of losing it as confidence leads corners to be cut and adjustments no longer made. So it was for Smith during the ODIs that followed the India Tests: his trigger movement across the stump began to look more exaggerated than usual, exposing the leg stump.

It was struck by Umesh Yadav in a World Cup warm-up match against India, and there were to be other low scores against England at the MCG and New Zealand at Eden Park. But the combination of time in the nets - no tournament affords a batsman more chances to work on his technique between games than this bulbous World Cup format - and a move up to No. 3 in the batting order helped Smith to find valuable clarity.

The self-analysis brought a solution that has worked nicely in ensuing matches, as Smith has compiled three successive half centuries at first-drop. It is also a solution that has brought slightly puzzled looks from his team-mates: Smith is now taking guard not on leg stump, but outside it.

"I have moved my guard a little bit to leg so I am not moving quite as far as across and I feel I am back to where I want to be," Smith said. "I ask for leg stump and then I just pull it this way a little bit, so there is a mark in the middle of nowhere out there. It has fooled a few people, Pup [Michael Clarke] came out against Sri Lanka and said 'what's going on out there?'

"I watched a little bit of footage of my batting in the summer in the Tests and I was actually starting to go a little further outside leg and for some reason I forgot about it and I went back to leg stump and started moving across a little bit too far. I've got it back to where I want it now and it really feels good.

"I didn't feel out of form. I just felt like I was out of sync a little bit with a few of my movements. But that's back, my swing's back where I want it to be, so hopefully I can continue crunching India around the park. I picked that up myself - I watched a bit of footage and saw where I was and got it back to where I want it."

Smith's clear ownership of his game has been one of the features of his emergence as Australia's most bankable batsman. The ability to self-correct is vital in an age of constant travel and multiple teams, not least because as he was figuring a way to resume the scoring of earlier in the summer, the selectors and the captain Michael Clarke were sizing him up for No. 3.

"I have always said I enjoy batting at three and with Pup at four we just like to take our time and knock the ball around," Smith said. "That will work well against India with their spinners bowling quite a few overs in the middle, we can knock them around and give our power hitters the last 15 overs, ideally, to come in and do what they did against Sri Lanka, I think that is our blueprint to ideally perform."

One thing Smith's newfound position has done is push him towards the sharpest of mindsets, given that at No. 3 a batsman can find himself at the crease anywhere from the first over to the 30th. He admitted that as runs began to pile up this season it was easy to lapse into a mindset that every new innings is simply the resumption of the previous one, a sense of comfort aiding strokeplay but also allowing bowlers more of a chance.

"I think when you're on those sorts of runs you just need to think as little as possible and just try and go out and do the same thing over and over again," Smith said. "Each time you go out there, I think, when you're hitting the ball well you can kind of get stuck thinking you're out there on 30 or whatever before you've started. For me it's about starting my innings again the way I've started every time and trying to build an innings. After you get through the first 20 balls, things get a lot easier from there."

How easy they will get against India remains to be seen, and Smith acknowledged Australia will be facing a different combination to the one that could not beat them once - nor get especially close to doing so - in six encounters across the Test and limited-overs series. Nonetheless, he thinks there will still be some residue from those defeats, just as his own blistering form will count for something.

"I think we'll have a little edge over them with a few scars from the matches throughout the summer, they didn't beat us once," he said. "So I think that's going to be playing on their mind a little bit. They've been here for a long time now, they've been able to get accustomed to the conditions, the bounce we've got here compared to back in India.

"They have played some really good cricket throughout this World Cup, for us we have to be at the top of our game if we are going to beat them. They have got some good performers, some guys who are playing really well, but for us as a batting group if we can bat deep and get a big total batting first or second we will get over the line."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sarang on March 25, 2015, 12:12 GMT

    @JAKE VANESCH .. There is no ego with me and definitely Aus is better team going in tomm's match (on paper and home conditions). I meant the aus cricket team and some of their supporters on this forum are so full of themselves that they simply overlook the intense battle that happened in the test series. Quite simply, Indian batsmen gave plenty back to the much famed Aus bowling and that showed when Smith decided not to declare in Melbourne test scared and scarred after India's chase in 1st test. He also chose to bat first in every match. Why would he do that if he was very confident of his team's bowling strength? The same Smith now is talking about scars on India. Scars happen when one team can't stand at all against other team (ex- Eng in Aus in 2012, Aus in India in 2013). I also hope that the better performing team wins tomorrow.

  • Suri on March 25, 2015, 10:25 GMT

    Smith's off side stroke play was excellent against Pakistan. Yet, he got out LBW to a ball that Hawkeye said would have clipped the leg stump. I still worry that he hasn't quite fixed the problem though I hope he has. Australia needs him when the spinners come on.

  • Marcio on March 25, 2015, 7:38 GMT

    It's very noticeable that Indian fans spend an awful lot of energy in their posts saying that opposition players and teams are no good. Why is that? Most other comments from other countries are about the game or posters' own teams.

    Most of the criticisms are tired cliches, that just keep getting repeated: only Starc is a good fast bowler (ridiculous), Australia can't play spin (Clarke and Smith are fantastic, Warner and Maxwell excellent)... I could go on.

    The bottom line is that Australia has a stronger team in Austtralian conditions, and have the pace firepower to exploit India's problems against quicks -Dhoni, Dharwan and Raina in particular. They'll be hoping the pitch is even more dead than expected.

  • richard on March 25, 2015, 6:53 GMT

    @caldruid are you hoping they bowl leg stump ?

  • Pr on March 25, 2015, 6:31 GMT

    I did find it very weird that Smith moved so far outside off. He is too good a player to pick up these kinds of bad stances. Also it's surprising that bowlers ( barring that Yadav delivery in the warmups ) havent bowled fast and quick at leg stump when he does this. There really are only 2 guys in this Aus team who are respectable - Steve Smith and Faulkner.

  • Graham on March 25, 2015, 6:13 GMT

    Rajasekaran ; Wow thats a new one Australia feel pressure because who they may play in the final. Pretty sure all there efforts are directed at one game right now. Its simple the looser is out there is pressure on both teams like there was on South Africa and New Zealand last night. The pressure on both is equal.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2015, 5:31 GMT

    The difference in India Australia semi final. India is going in the match without pressure. Australia two pressure. First plying in the home country. Second if they win they have to face New Zealand in final where they have already lost in their group match

  • richard on March 25, 2015, 5:29 GMT

    As an Aussie this is my thoughts on how Australia should go about it, I think they should open at a steady rate 5 or 6 an over, knock them around for singles at 5 or 6 an over, then unleash like they did against SL.

  • Graham on March 25, 2015, 5:05 GMT

    Mysecretme - Maxwell said Hopefully - Pretty honest to me of course he hopes he can go well. That seems like the blueprint that Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India all use in one-day cricket - nothing revolutionary there. India no exactly what Australia will try to do and thats why they will try and take wickets at the top. Australia will try exactly the same with India so there power hitters cant do the same. Faulkner said sledging is in every game so of course there will be some in the semi final. I read the text they just seem like obvious answers to the questions asked. I think you read way too much into the text.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2015, 4:56 GMT

    If the wicket turns or is slow ..Australia is gone.

    If the wicket is fast ..Indian pacers will not make it easy for the Aussies .

    All 3.. Umesh , Mohit and Shami are 140+ and because of their short height are skiddy which is a diffferent challenge than the taller Australian pacemen.

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