Is Steve Smith Comparable to Don Bradman?

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There is no denying that Steve Smith is a phenomenal batsman. A career Test average of over 60 is unparalleled among current batsmen and he consistently delivers under pressure. The latest ICC Test Rankings mirror Smith’s dominance. Smith now has a rating of 945 points, which is the joint second of all time. It is level with Len Hutton and second only to Don Bradman. The current Australian batsman is closing in fast on Bradman, leading people to draw comparisons to the two players. However, it is hard to see how such a comparison can be justified. There are several reasons why Bradman will always be considered to the better batsman and although Smith is the best of our generation, he will always be second to Bradman.

Is Steve Smith Comparable to Don Bradman?

Don Bradman’s Statistical Superiority 

Unfortunately for Smith, Bradman is statistically superior in every way. His average of 99.94 is over 30 runs higher than Smith’s and they have now played a similar amount of matches. Indeed, in the 52 Tests he played, Bradman notched up 29 hundreds, including two triple hundreds. Smith, after 59 Tests, has 22 hundreds with a top score of 239. Many people use Bradman’s brief, by our current standards, Test career to his disadvantage, citing Smith’s career will extend far beyond his. However, looking at Bradman’s first-class career pays testament to his long-term talent. In his 234 first-class games Bradman hit a breathtaking 28,067 runs at a healthy average of just 95.14. Smith’s first-class average of 57.84 after 112 matches seems feeble in light of this. While Smith is currently the best Test player in the world, he struggles to match the great Don Bradman statistically in any way.

Is Batting Easier in the 21st Century?

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When comparing these two players it is important to focus on the huge time gap spanning their careers. Bradman’s last Test was in 1948 and since that time cricket has changed greatly. Most fans would argue that the game has moved to shift the batsmen. Bat sizes are significantly bigger than they were in Bradman’s era, and the incredible television analysis we now have allows batsmen to find and work on their weaknesses. None of that was available in Bradman’s time. Moreover, in modern Test cricket you are unable to have more than two fielders behind square on the leg-side to prevent “bodyline” tactics. However, these rules were not in place during the 1932-33 Ashes series in Australia, where the England players used such tactics. Ultimately it had very little impact on Bradman, who scored a record-breaking 974 runs, but signifies the mollification of fast bowling. In light of all this evidence, I think it is fair to conclude that batting in Bradman’s era was harder, perhaps greatly, than batting in today’s climate.
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The Case for Such a Comparison 

Despite the overwhelming evidence refuting such a comparison between the two players, there are some grounds to compare them. One such way would be to look at their performances relative to other batsmen from their respective generations. Smith is favoured by such a metric. If we look back at the ICC Test Rankings, Smith’s points gap to the second place Virat Kohli is a substantial 52 points. Bradman’s gap to the next best player was significantly less. While Bradman had an incredible 961 points, his contemporary Len Hutton was not far off, with 945 points to his name. This gap of just 16 points seems insignificant in the face of the current gap between Smith and Kohli. Therefore, if we compare each player to their contemporaries, Smith is actually more dominant than Bradman.

Overall Verdict

Steve Smith is not quite as prolific as the great Don Bradman, it has to be said. Drawing such a comparison is a stretch, as reinforced by Bradman’s statistical dominance. To further support this, the batting-friendly conditions of the 21st century are not comparable to the gruelling conditions Bradman had to play in. However, we must acknowledge that Smith is unique in terms of his lead over other batsmen playing today. He is truly on another level compared to other current Test batsmen and is a real star and joy to watch.

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