Steve Smith’s career has been an intriguing one, to say the least. It has been a tale of remarkable twists and turns. The boy from New South Wales, who took to cricket as a specialist leg-spinner hoping to emulate the great Shane Warne one day, has now emerged as Australia’s second-best batsman ever behind the immortal Sir Donald Bradman.
How he became the player he is today is a mystery question we’d hope to answer here as well as throw light on his comeback after the infamous ‘Sandpaper Gate’ incident, which saw him getting banned from international cricket for a year.
BEGINNING OF SOMETHING SPECIAL
Steve Smith’s Test career began in 2010 at the hallowed turf of Lord’s against Pakistan. He batted at number 8 in his debut match and bowled some handy leg-spin. He didn’t get to roll his arm over in the first innings as the Australian quicks bundled Pakistan out for a mere 148, but in the second innings, Smith went on to pick three wickets and Australia won the Test match. Ironically, the man who currently averages 62.84 in Test cricket got demoted to number 9 in the second innings.
Then came the Ashes in 2010-11 Down Under where Smith continued to be selected as a number 6 or 7 batsman in the team and managed just a sole fifty in the series. The Ashes was eventually won by the Andrew Strauss-led English team, 3-1, their first win on Australian soil in 24 years. Smith’s batting technique was all over the place. He had more trigger movements than any other batsman in the game and not all the movements were in harmony. It felt like he didn’t belong at the international level and his leg-spin didn’t prove to be groundbreaking either, as he just managed to pick a single wicket in the three Tests he played in that series. He went away and worked on his game and returned to the Test side two years later with a much tighter technique.
YEARS OF DOMINATION AND THE FALL
He came back to the Australian squad for their 2013 tour of India and immediately started writing the front-page headlines. Slowly, we witnessed the emergence of Steve Smith as we know him now. He fell out as a bowler and just immersed himself in the art of batsmanship. People who know Smith say that he is batting absolutely all the time, whether it’s in the shower, a hallway, in a restaurant and even when he’s relaxing at a pub. Smith is always shadow batting and imagining himself hitting the bowlers for fours and sixes.
In just his first year back in international cricket, Smith averaged 51.05 and managed to stack up four hundreds in that period. Mind you, that year had just one home series for the young Smith. He had to play in difficult conditions like India, England and South Africa, where he adapted his technique beautifully to suit all conditions. He was soon recognised as one of the best Test batsmen going around in the world.
In the 2014-15 home summer, he became Australia’s 45th Test captain, filling in for the injured Michael Clarke in three Tests. Despite being only 25 at the time, the extra responsibility clearly didn’t hamper his run-making abilities. It became clear that Smith was to be Clarke’s successor, a move that was confirmed after Clarke’s retirement at the end of the 2015 Ashes in England.
March 24 in 2018 proved to be a dark day in Australian cricket. A day which will always be remembered for the ‘Sandpaper Gate’. A team led by Smith resorted to ball-tampering to gain an added advantage against South Africa at Cape Town. Cameron Bancroft, then a young Australian opener was caught on camera using sandpaper on the ball to scuff up one end of the red ball. Smith who was a part of the leadership group which included vice-captain David Warner was banned from cricket by Cricket Australia for 12 months while Bancroft was suspended for 9 months. Smith was stripped of captaincy immediately and the trio was sent back home midway through the series.
COMEBACK OF A CHAMPION
How a sports person rises from adversities shows us the real mettle of that individual. We’ve seen some famous icons in the past in Michael Jordan, Niki Lauda, Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams and Mary Kom, to name a few, who came back after a spell away from the sport and took the world by storm. Steve Smith’s comeback story isn’t one to take lightly either. Not having played any competitive cricket for 12 months wasn’t easy for a man who eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He had also fallen out of love for the sport when he had an elbow injury in January 2019, but the man continued to chip away and came back as if he had never been away.
He returned to Test cricket with a 774-run Ashes series in 2019. That summer belonged to just him as Australia drew the series 2-2 and managed to retain the Ashes in England after 18 years. In just his first Test match back at Edgbaston, Smith was greeted with a hostile English crowd. Boos rang all across the stadium with chants of “cheat, cheat, cheat” in the air, as English supporters stood with sandpaper in their hands to demean the man. His 144 at Edgbaston is easily one of the top five Test innings played in 2019. He proved everyone wrong, so much so that the English bowlers had no idea how to get Smith out. Due to Smith’s incredible run in the 2019 Ashes series, Australia managed to pull off the unthinkable. In the recent series against Pakistan in Australia, Smith managed to break a 73-year-old record as he became the fastest batsman to 7,000 Test runs.
Steve Smith’s comeback tale seems straight out of fiction. His technique may be unique and fidgety but his basics of batting is as solid as anyone who has ever played this sport. There’s no doubt that he’ll continue to score massive runs and will go on to shatter most records in Test cricket.
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