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Smith proves South Africa's recurring nightmare

On Wednesday, AB de Villiers said Steven Smith was an opposing captain's nightmare, Two days later Smith proved to be a recurring nightmare

Steven Smith celebrates his hundred, Australia v South Africa, 4th ODI, Melbourne, November 21, 2014

Steven Smith's hundred ensured, barring injury, that he won't be left out of the one-day side again anytime soon  •  Getty Images

On Wednesday, AB de Villiers said Steven Smith was an opposing captain's nightmare, after his unbeaten 73 off 55 balls blasted Australia past 300 in Canberra. Two days later Smith proved to be a recurring nightmare, his 104 in Melbourne delivering Australia a series win in a match that looked dead and buried.
From 5 for 98 in the 25th over, Smith and Matthew Wade took Australia to the brink of victory, before some late boundaries from James Faulkner ensured the target of 268 was reached. To recover from such a precarious position against an attack led by Dale Steyn showed the maturity and talent of Smith, who said the victory was "right up there" with any he had been part of.
"I was lucky enough to have some good partners out there," Smith said. "Matthew Wade came out and played beautifully from ball one and really took the pressure off. James Faulkner came in and did what he's done so well over the last 12 to 18 months and finished the job. It made it a lot easier on me and I was just lucky to be there at the other end knocking them around, and Jimmy came in and hit some good boundaries. It ranks right up there.
"We just needed to consolidate and play each ball on its merits. We knew if we had a few wickets in hand at the end it was going to get a lot easier. It certainly got a little bit easier when the dew came in and the wicket kept one pace. It was a little bit two-paced at the start of our innings. That made things a lot easier and we had a few wickets left in the shed at the end to go hard and credit to the boys we did well in the end."
Smith is in such impressive touch across all formats that he should enter the Test series against India as Australia's most in-form batsman. It was therefore a slight concern for Australian fans to see Smith receive treatment from the team physio during his innings, and it remains to be seen whether a sore hip will see him rested for Sunday's dead rubber in Sydney, but Smith was confident the problem would not be serious.
"I'm just a little bit tight through my hips," he said. "Hopefully it settles down tomorrow and I'll be right to play on Sunday … No real concern. Hopefully it settles down tomorrow and everything should be fine."
Australia certainly hope so. One of the only Australians who handled the Test conditions in the UAE with any level of comfort, Smith is currently ranked 12th on the ICC's Test batting rankings and is transferring his form to one-day cricket. The leading Australian run scorer in this series with 187, despite having been left out of the first game, Smith has effectively made himself an indispensable member of the side.
In the long term, that could spell trouble for one of his batting colleagues, if captain Michael Clarke returns for the World Cup. Smith said he was disappointed to have been left out of the series opener in Perth given his strong ODI form against Pakistan in the UAE, but he said he was pleased to have responded with two Man-of-the-Match performances on his return.
"I was a little bit disappointed but since I've been back I feel like I'm hitting the ball really well and I'm just looking to, every game I play for Australia, keep winning games for them and keep getting better at the same time," Smith said. "I'm happy where everything is at, at the moment.
"I think my whole batting in general has improved a lot over the last 12 months. I think I'm premeditating a lot less, I'm playing each ball on its merits and just looking to bat time. I get that opportunity when I'm batting at three and four in the one-day game, to bat a bit of time and spend some time in the middle. It always gets a lot easier, just when you get that time out there and give yourself a chance."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale