Little over a month after he conjured an innings of class on a rank turner, Steven Smith returned to Pune to produce a T20 masterclass to give Rising Pune Supergiant a winning start to their IPL campaign.
The intensity of the recently concluded Test series, where he was the highest run-scorer with 499 runs, may have taken a toll, but the Smith who turned up for Pune's IPL opener didn't show it. He hadn't played any T20 cricket for a year, but it hardly seemed to matter.
This was no cakewalk. Mumbai Indians had never lost in the IPL after scoring 184 or more. Smith walked out after Pune lost an early wicket, and batted right through the chase. He was happy to slip into the background early on, when Ajinkya Rahane blazed his way to 60 off 34 balls, and found a way to manufacture a boundary whenever Pune needed one, sealing the deal with two massive hits when they needed 10 runs off the last three balls.
Along the way, he also benefited from some luck: he was dropped on 36, and he made Mumbai and Nitish Rana regret the lapse. Three things stood out in his innings: his ability to control the tempo, his ability to overcome pockets of frustration, and then to bring out the big shots when his side needed it the most.
The wow moment
Having taken his side to within touching distance, Smith nearly saw the win being snatched from under his nose. Supergiant needed 13 off the final over. MS Dhoni struggled to strike like the Dhoni of old. Three singles left Smith on strike with 10 needed off the last three. He was up against Kieron Pollard, a bowler with canny variations in pace. But it looked like he had decided his hitting zone - between deep midwicket and long-on - even before Pollard delivered the fourth ball. It was far from being in the slot for him to tee off but he still picked the length early and backed himself to clear the slog. He did, hitting it deep into the stands to puncture Mumbai's hopes.
Smith made 27 runs off the first 25 balls he faced at a strike rate of 108. Once in, he scored 57 off the next 29 balls at a strike rate of 197.
This was Smith's sixth 30-plus score in eight innings against Mumbai Indians. All of them have resulted in wins for his side.
What they said
"He's the best batsman in the world at the moment, isn't he? No one seems to have come up with a plan quite yet for him. He played really well, he read the situation well and was not out at the end. We formulate plans at team meetings, but he was too good today." - Jos Buttler on the man who made the difference
"Form is form anywhere, I guess. You've got to make the most of it when you're hitting the ball well. Pune's a nice place to bat. It got tight in the end but we knew they had to bowl an over from a spinner or Pollard and that's what we were going to target. It was nice to hit a couple of sixes and pull off the win." - Steven Smith on his knock