Clear daylight between Steven Smith and the rest

Chappell: Smith feels India can't get him out (1:47)

Ian Chappell discusses Steven Smith's mindset and his form against India (1:47)

Steven Smith has outscored the combined tally of the next two top-scoring visiting batsmen on this tour. Before this Test, he had outscored Virat Kohli by 325 runs. His 109 in Pune outscored India in both their innings (105 and 107) and fell only three short of Australia's second-innings total in Bengaluru. In Ranchi, he outscored the other batsmen so much he made 39% of Australia's first-innings total of 451. Smith outscores the next-best current batsman, Joe Root, by 8.77 runs an innings and outscores every batsman in the world who has played over 40 innings, save Sir Donald Bradman.

There is Steven Smith, and then there is a gap.


David Warner must have seen the ball swinging out of Bhuvneshwar Kumar's hand as the day's first delivery seemed to swerve from the moment it left. But Warner still chased it, and when it took the edge it should have been caught by Karun Nair at slip.

Warner's home-away gap might be ever increasing, but no team in the world wants to drop him, especially on a pitch that seems to have the pace and bounce that he craves so much. Warner's attacking play wins games in Australia; they are almost non-existent away from home which is not a reason to give him more than one chance to right that.

It was more than one chance: soon, another came and went, when Warner nervously swiped at R Ashwin, and he would have been caught, if point wasn't posted in the deep. He edged one over the slip cordon when caught by surprise with an angled bat, and then there was him trying to force away a ball too close to him, in length and width, and edging just past slip off Kuldeep Yadav's bowling. Here was Warner, on a quick Indian pitch, well set, a bit of luck behind him, his nemesis' first spell conquered, and all he had to do was double up on his start and support his captain.

Instead, Warner got another ball just outside off stump, this time slightly shorter than the one he edged from Kuldeep. He tried to force his way again but was pocketed by the slip fielder this time. All batsmen make mistakes but the very best ones learn from them.


Early on when Bhuvneshwar went wide on the crease, Smith looked a bit unsure as the ball swung away from him and squared him up. Smith still middled the ball. So for the 27th ball of the innings, with both bowlers swinging the cherry, and the conditions seemingly in India's favour, Bhuvneshwar went around the wicket to Smith. In the next over, Umesh Yadav did the same thing.

This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing, nor an act of random madness. India had a plan and they were trying to implement it. But with the new ball, and the swing, and India on top, and a good time for the seamers, was this the time, the way, the place, the thing to try? India went all in, no fine leg or square leg, just two men well in front of square on the leg side, and first ball Smith shuffled across the entire stumps and helped himself to a two.

The entire plan stemmed from the fact that India did not know what the hell to do with Smith. They could bowl how they do to normal batsmen, but as Wahab Riaz learnt in the World T20, even if you bowl off the pitch to Smith, outside off stump, he could still middle the ball to the leg side. So, instead, India pressed the big, red, crazy, flashing panic button.

If the plan was to test him well wide of off stump, he pumped boundaries through cover and backward point, despite India's tactic to use a deep point. If the plan was to bowl at his leg stump, he milked them there too. If it was to confuse him into an act of a normal batsman, that obviously failed too.

Even when they went back to proper Test-cricket bowling, they had no answers. At one stage, India were so confused as to how to stop Smith that they tried a short point for a catch right in front of deep point. Smith smashed the ball into the ground, and it bounced well over the short-point fielder, and he strolled for a single.

In this form, Smith's runs seemed pre-ordained.


Shaun Marsh has played two quality innings this tour but has also averaged under 30 for the series. After not cashing in on the flat pitch in Ranchi, this pitch was the kind on which he could have made a hundred that caught more attention than fighting half-centuries. In real cricket terms, it might not have been as impressive, but with cricket still relying on aggregates and averages, he needed something from this knock.

Instead, as Marsh so often does, he fell early to seam, thereby widening his gap between pace and spin, and his average to pace dropped to less than 30, while his series average languished at 21. Being strangled down the leg side is an unlucky way to get out but Marsh's record against pace has been well earned.


Ashwin started around the wicket to Smith. Later he would bowl over the wicket. Smith had only just reached his fifty, and three of India's bowlers had bowled on both sides of the wicket to him. When Ashwin came over the wicket to Smith, he was punched back over his head like a naughty schoolboy. India were all out of sides to bowl with, and so they stuffed around with the field.

One over, Ashwin, who had some assistance from the surface and looked in a better rhythm than his final-day performance in Ranchi, bowled to Smith with four men out on the boundary. Deep point, long-on, deep midwicket and deep backward square seemed to be placed there for as much as anything to allow Smith a single to get Warner back on strike. An agreed upon single to get Warner back on strike before lunch on day one.

Smith just took the runs he was offered, like he had with all the bizarre fields and plans all morning, and when Warner and he brought up their 100-run partnership, he had accumulated 67 of them.


Kuldeep is not a mystery spinner; he bowls conventional wristspin. But since you so rarely face top-quality left-arm wristspin, it's not something you spend a lot of time preparing against. If Peter Handscomb had thought about it, he probably would not have tried a cover drive against spin - with a huge gap between bat and pad - so early in his innings. Had Glenn Maxwell faced more of him, he might have been able to pick the wrong'un, which for some reason always seems a bit trickier when released by a left-handed bowler.

There was no mystery as to why both failed here.


There is a strange thing about Kuldeep's pitch map to Smith; it looks quite identical to the other right-handed batsmen. He didn't bowl better to the others or worse to Smith - there were just different results. Smith picked the ball out of the hand, played it back in the crease, and found ways to score that involved no danger.

There was nothing incredibly unusual about where he scored. Well, not for him. The ball spun into him and he turned it to leg. But on a day when the rest of his top order struggled so much with Kuldeep, every ball that Smith negotiated with ease merely added to the proof of the alien-like manner in which he handles batting in India.

Which is why he is tied at the top of the list of most Test hundreds by an Australian in India, only after a series and a half.


As Smith batted on, India's heads turned into mush. Even the Star Sports commentators gave up on sensible words to describe a cover drive and essentially uttered word salads that included tracer bullet, muscle, knots and bones. India seemed to have a million bad ideas on how to not get Smith out. Five bowlers, bowling short, wacky fields, almost all the spin that has been invented, bowlers around the wicket and sweepers galore, they only really missed bowling double-armed deliveries from behind the bowler's head with an 8-1 leg-side field and M Vijay singing show tunes as he bowled his offspin.

It didn't matter; this was bound to be a Smith hundred the moment he fidgeted manically before his first ball.

It might not have been as incredible as his knock in Pune, it certainly wasn't as long or patient as the Ranchi knock, but this was another moment of Smith's imperfect perfection. When he was finally out it was to a quicker ball from Ashwin, a ball Smith played off the backfoot when he probably should have come forward. His dismissal was like watching an incredibly complicated machine break down because someone forgot to tighten a rivet.

Smith was the sixth man out after having made his 20th Test century. By then, he had all but doubled the next best score, and had made 53% of Australia's total. In this series, Smith has outbatted his team-mates, outbatted the opposition and outbatted the world. If he were a country in his own right, he would be favourite to win this series.

The biggest Smith gap right now is the one between him and mere mortals.