Steve Smith: The greatest Test batsman

As Steve Smith turns 32 today, let us reflect on his test career and how he transformed himself from a spin-bowling all-rounder to the “Greatest Test batsman since Bradman.”

THE DEBUT 

Steve Smith made his test debut at Lords in July 2010, playing both Tests against Pakistan in the 2010 Test series played in England. Despite having a terrific First-Class batting record, he was primarily selected for his bowling. In that test match series, he scored a solid 77 in the last of his four innings after failing to capitalise in the other innings.

In the following home summer, he was selected in the playing eleven for the last three test matches. This time he got promoted up the order to bat at number six or seven. He scored a half-century and got off to a couple of starts.

Post The Ashes 2011/12 he was not considered in the side for the next 2 years.

THE RETURN

Steve Smith was included in the 17 man squad for the 2013 Border Gavaskar Trophy held in India. He was picked solely for his batting despite having an average couple of domestic seasons. His opportunity came in the 3rd test of the series where four of the first team players were suspended for the famous homework-gate controversy. He made the most of the given opportunity and scored a 92 in Mohali. In the next test also he got off to a good start but gave away his wicket just before reaching a half-century.

He showed a lot of determination and the selectors were impressed which led to the Ashes call up.

THE ASHES 2013 AND 2013/14

2013 saw Australia and England lock horns twice for the coveted Ashes trophy. Steve Smith played all ten matches throughout the two series and this was just the beginning of something very big in Australian cricket.

He scored a 50 in the first game itself. After a forgettable Lord’s test, he piled up 89 runs in the Manchester test. The last match of the series saw Smith score his first test century. He scored 138 not out at The Kia Oval. Australia lost that series 3-0 while Smith managed to score 345 runs at a decent average of 38.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his maiden century during day two of the 5th Investec Ashes Test match between England and...

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 22: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his maiden century during day two of the 5th Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia at the Kia Oval on August 22, 2013, in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The 2013/14 Ashes down under is heavily remembered for Mitchell Johnson’s heroics but it also led to the rise of Australia’s new batting maestro. Smith failed to make an impact in the first two test matches but the selectors showed faith in him. Then came the Perth test and Smith’s first century in home soil. This knock is very significant in Smith’s career as he had admitted how he changed his technique mid-game to face the bouncers and end up scoring a ton. Smith also scored a century in the Sydney test and finished the series with 327 runs at an average above 40 as Australia regained the Ashes after winning 5-0.

Australia's Steve Smith celebrates reaching his century during the 3rd Ashes cricket Test match between Australia and England at the WACA cricket...

Australia’s Steve Smith celebrates reaching his century during the 3rd Ashes cricket Test match between Australia and England at the WACA cricket ground, Perth, Australia on the 13th of December 2013. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

 

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TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA AND UAE

Steve Smith’s next challenge was South Africa and he made an impact in his very first innings. Australia was four down for 98 in Centurion when Smith stitched up a massive partnership with Shaun Marsh and departed after scoring a 100 against a ferocious South African bowling trio. He even scored 80 odd in the series decider and Australia won both the matches. He scored 269 runs at an average of about 67 in the series helping his team win 2-1

In October 2014, Australia faced Pakistan in the UAE. After a brilliant ODI series, Smith performed decently in the tests. Australia lost the test series 2-0 while Smith scored 174 runs in 4 innings. His 97 in the 4th innings of the game suggested how good a player of spin he is. 

Steven Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching 100 runs during day two of the First Test match between South Africa and Australia on February...

CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA – FEBRUARY 13: Steven Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching 100 runs during day two of the First Test match between South Africa and Australia on February 13, 2014, in Centurion, South Africa. (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

BORDER-GAVASKAR TROPHY 14/15- THE SUMMER OF STEVE SMITH

The summer of 14/15 saw Steve Smith break through the ranks and establish himself as a world-beater. India toured Australia for the four-match test series in December 2014. Smith started with a 162* and 52* in the first test which Australia went on to win by 60 runs on a dramatic day 5. In the next few games, Smith made a mockery of the Indian bowling attack. Scores of 133&28, 192&14 and 117&71 flourished throughout the series and Smith piled up 769 runs at an average of 128, a couple of man of the match awards and of course the player of the series as well. Australia won the series 2-0 and regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He also led the test team after Michael Clarke’s injury in the 1st test.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his century over the Test Cap number '408' tribute to the late Phil Hughes during day two of the...

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 10: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his century over the Test Cap number ‘408’ tribute to the late Phil Hughes during day two of the First Test match between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval on December 10, 2014, in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Tour of the Caribbean and Ashes in England 2015

Australia toured the Caribbean for a two-match test series in June 2015. Smith scored 25 and 5* batting at number three in the first test. The second test saw Smith accumulate scores of 199&54*. The next best score in the first innings was mere 47 runs while Smith almost touched the double century mark. Australia won the series 2-0. After this series, Smith became the number 1 ranked test batsman.

Australia then toured England for the much-awaited Ashes series. Smith dropped scores of 33 in each innings of the first match and England won the game comfortably. After missing out on a double century in Sabina Park, Smith scored his first double hundred at the Home of Cricket. He backed it with a 58 in the next innings as Australia levelled the series. The next couple of games were forgettable for Smith as he got out in single digits and England went 3-1 up in the series. However, in the final match of the series, he scored 143 at The Kia Oval helping Australia win the match and finish the series at 2-3. He top-scored in the series yet again with 508 runs in 9 innings.

After The Ashes, he became the captain of Australia. The start of the journey towards Steve Smith becoming the greatest test batsman.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his double century during day two of the 2nd Investec Ashes Test match between England and...

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 17: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his double century during day two of the 2nd Investec Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground on July 17, 2015, in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

SUMMER  OF 15/16

New Zealand and the Windies toured Australia during 15/16. Smith’s first series as a full-time captain was against New Zealand where he managed to score 281 runs in 3 matches including a century along with a fifty and helped his side win 2-0. It was the first time in over a year where he did not top score in a series. The boxing day test against The Windies saw him score 134*&70* while he did not get to bat in the rain-hit second game of the series. Australia won the series 1-0 and it was the end of another successful series for the newly appointed skipper.

Steve Smith was ICC’s Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer for the year 2015.

TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND

Australia toured their Trans-Tasman rivals in February 2016 and won both the test matches of the series. Smith scored 71, 138 and 53* in his three innings.

He quickly became becoming unstoppable at this point and his number 1 ranking was untouchable. He was dominating every country and every series but the Asian challenge awaited him. Steve Smith knew had to conquer it in order to be a nominee for the greatest test batsman since Bradman.

Australian captain Steve Smith celebrates a century during day two of the second cricket Test match between New Zealand and Australia at the Hagley Park in Christchurch on February 21, 2016. AFP PHOTO / MARTY MELVILLE / AFP / Marty Melville (Photo credit should read MARTY MELVILLE/AFP via Getty Images)

TOUR OF SRI LANKA

Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka was a forgettable one. They were clean swept 3-0. Smith though once again was the top scorer for Australia scoring 247 runs in three matches including a century and a fifty.

SUMMER OF 16/17

2016/17 summer began with the arrival of the South African Cricket team. It was a horror start for Australia and their skipper. Smith made a duck and 34 runs in the first Test, and Australia lost the match. He hit 48 not out in the opening innings of the second Test at Hobart, but the team capitulated, scoring only 85 runs in total and losing the match. Australia had lost five consecutive test matches and Smith was under immense pressure. He then scored 59&40 in the next test helping his side to avoid a whitewash.

For the first time in three years, he failed to score a century in a series.

Pakistan arrived after South Africa and Smith had to make a statement after an average series. He scored 130&63 in the first match itself. The run flow did not stop as he scored 165* in the MCG game. He ended up scoring 441 runs at an average of 88 and Australia completed a 3-0 whitewash over Pakistan. Smith was also named the Player of the Series.

He was close to losing the number one ranking spot but after the heroics against Pakistan, he made sure to stay at the top.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day one of the First Test match between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba on December...

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 15: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day one of the First Test match between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba on December 15, 2016, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

BORDER-GAVASKAR TROPHY 2017

Touring India has been the toughest challenge for any visiting team. India had not lost a test match in over four years and Australia had lost all nine of their previous games in Asia. Smith had asked to set up a camp in UAE before the start of the big series to get accustomed to Indian conditions. Smith got out for 27 runs in the first innings of the first match but he managed to do the unthinkable in the next. On a rank turner, Steve Smith scored 109 runs against two of the best spinners in the world in the third innings of the match.

It was regarded as the best knock by a visiting batsman on Asian soil in recent years. No other Australian batsman managed to cross 30. India was also bowled out for 105 and 107 while Steve Smith outscored the entire team. Australia broke India’s unbeaten streak at home. The series was levelled by India in Bengaluru without much contribution from Smith. The third test saw Smith score a mammoth 178* on a slow wicket at Ranchi as Australia managed to draw the series. He then carried this form in Dharamsala and scored another hundred and ended up with a series tally of 499 runs at an average of 71. India won the series 2-1 but it was the first time in years they were pushed to the edge because of one man Steve Smith. 

His consistency was getting unmatched and this series established Steve Smith as the greatest Test batsman of his generation and on par with many all-time greats.

TOUR OF BANGLADESH AND ASHES DOWN UNDER

Australia then toured Bangladesh and drew the series 1-1 with Smith managing only 119 runs in the two games including a half-century.

November 2017, England travelled to Australia to retain the urn. In the very first match, Australia was struggling and behind by a significant amount of runs while losing wickets continuously. Smith then scored 141*, stitching up partnerships with the tail and helping his side take the lead.

It was one of the best hundreds by an Australian on home soil. He did not score enough runs in the next test but covered it up by a double ton at Perth. The boxing day test saw him scoring 76&102* saving the match on the final day. He scored 80 odd runs in the final test and ended his series tally with 687 runs at an average of 135! After the boxing day test, he had reached 947 rating points in Test cricket which was second only to Sir Don Bradman.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his double century during day three of the Third Test match during the 2017/18 Ashes Series...

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 16: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his double century during day three of the Third Test match during the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at WACA on December 16, 2017, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

 

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TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA- LOW POINT

The South Africa tour is known for the sandpaper gate scandal. The tour ended with a 3-1 defeat and a 12-month ban for Smith and his two teammates. He could only gather about 142 runs in three games. The Steve Smith quest to become the greatest test batsman since Bradman had hit a roadblock. He was up against adversity. 

How would he respond?

REDEMPTION

The ban was over but the scars of the scandal were still there. Australian fans needed redemption from their talisman. Smith’s Ashes 2019 is one of the most beautiful stories of redemption. Australia was struggling at 122-8 under extremely difficult batting conditions on day one of the first match. Smith played the knock of his life, scoring 144 and dragged the team total to 284. In the second innings, England had a healthy lead and Australia in reply lost early wickets. Smith again scored 142 runs and helped Australia win the match.

Fortress Edgbaston was breached. It was regarded as the best performance by an Australian in a test match in the 21st century. The next test saw Australia struggling again in the early phase. Smith scored 80 runs on a heavily overcast day before getting concussed. Smith came on to bat despite the concussion but could add only 12 runs to his tally. He missed out on his century but Australia managed to draw the game. He was not fit to play the next match and Australia ended up losing it. 

The next test saw him continue his domination. Coming right out of concussion, he blasted 211&82 runs in the game as Australia ended up winning the game. The Ashes were retained for the first time in English soil since 2001 and it was that man Steve Smith starring in both the victories. In the final test, he scored 80 runs in the first innings. The final innings saw him get out in the 20s which was his only score of less than 80 in the series. The entire crowd that was hostile throughout the series, rose to applaud him.

He scored 35.5% of his team’s runs despite missing out on three innings. He amassed 766 runs in seven innings, which was about two times more than the next best. The entire cricketing world was in awe of Steve Smith and it was about time he started getting “The Best of All Time” shouts. According to ESPN Cricinfo, it was the greatest performance in a series by a batsman. Redemption was well and truly secured.

Steve Smith was again on his way to becoming the greatest Test batsman ever. Ashes performances for Englishmen and Australians rank way higher than other achievements in the format.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 05: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates reaching his half century during Day Two of the 4th Specsavers Ashes Test between England and Australia at Old Trafford on September 05, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

SUMMER OF 19/20

The 19/20 summer was a pretty quiet one for Smith. He scored a few handy fifties but no centuries. Australia won all their games that summer.

SUMMER OF 20/21

The 20/21 summer is known for India’s famous Border-Gavaskar triumph down under. India had managed to contain Smith in the first two games. After scoring 10 runs in the first couple of games, he bounced back with 131&81 at the SCG. He scored another fifty in the next game and ended up as the second-highest run-getter of the series. His series tally ended at 313 runs at an average of 45 and showed the world that he cannot be kept out of the game for long. 

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day two of the Third Test match in the series between Australia and India at Sydney...

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 08: Steve Smith of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day two of the Third Test match in the series between Australia and India at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 08, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

He was named The Test Cricketer of Decade 2010s on 28th December 2020.

Steven Peter Devereux Smith also known as the modern-day Bradman averages close to 62 in test cricket. Here are some shocking stats and facts about his career:

 

  • The period between 14.12.17 and 29.2.20 is regarded as the greatest for fast bowling in cricket history. Smith scored close to 1700 runs at an average of 72.6 during that time.

 

 

  • He averages above 40 in every country he has played more than two matches in.

 

  • His away average is 57, at least 10 more than other members of the fab 4.

 

If we remove the numbers of his first 11 matches where he was picked as a bowling all-rounder, his numbers come up to:

 

Mat Inn Runs Avg  100s 50s
66 117 6920 68.51 27 26

 

It shows that his entire career has been one streak that had only one slump in a year where he did not play any cricket. Even this career record of Smith is not comparable to the prime years of most of the greats of this generation. Steve Smith, the legend, the greatest test batsman since Bradman.

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