Over my next four posts I’ll be taking a look at the four most exciting young batsmen in Test cricket heading into 2015.
First up- Steve Smith.
I was lucky enough to be in Sydney for the final day of the 2010/11 Ashes series. Aside from England’s victory, my abiding memory from that final morning is a pull shot played by a new kid on the block, off the bowling of Chris Tremlett. In just his 5th Test, Steve Smith manoeuvred his body in a way I have never seen before, to bunt the ball to the boundary.
He clearly had talent. But he also had something more. As the wickets tumbled around him and an Aussie era crumbled at his feet he seemed unaffected. His unbeaten 50 on that final morning was a sign of things to come.
England were also the opponents when he finally arrived as a Test batsman three years later. His centuries at both Perth and Sydney saved Australia from perilous positions, as he once again showed his ability to dig in.
His technique is certainly not textbook. Indeed, as a spectator you often feel that he is always one ball away from getting out; no matter how many he is on at the time. But this is just an illusion caused by his unique technique. He often looks too loose outside the off stump and always seems to keep the slips in play.
However as his monumental series against India this winter has proven, he has the propensity to make the big score. He’s not just a maker of hundreds; he is a winner of games.
Looking back at last winter’s Ashes series, I recall writing off Smith’s efforts with the bat, as a flash in the pan. A purple patch. All average Test batsmen get them. But they proved to be exactly the opposite, and have launched his career onto the next level, where he can rightly be talked about as one of the most exciting young batsman in the world.
His ability to play spin bowling with such confidence will also be a great relief to Australia, as they look to replace the ailing Michael Clarke as their middle order spin negotiator. The quickness of his hands means that he is able to generate unusual power from the positions he finds himself in against spin bowlers, and it also comes in handy when facing the quicker men too.
It is not just with his batting that Smith enthrals cricket fans the world over. His boyish enthusiasm for the game and genuine eagerness when giving interviews, only confirms what those who know the man already say about him. With Ricky Ponting recently stating that the Australian side is in ‘safe hands’ with Smith at the helm.
When he first came into the side, Smith was touted as a leg-spinning all-rounder. Perhaps Australia were trying desperately to replace Shane Warne. Perhaps they simply mislabelled him. Either way, Smith has proved them wrong. While his leg spin can be a useful option for a few overs late in the day, it is his batting that has caused the cricketing world to stand up and take note.
So what of his captaincy? Well, his record is pretty good so far, and regardless of the result this evening in the fourth Test, he will have enjoyed a relatively trouble free start to his tenure.
There have been times, notably on his first day in the job at the Gabba, and during Spidercam-gate, that he has been a little petulance in the way he has led the team. But that goes hand in hand with appointing a young captain.
While Smith is only skipper on a temporary basis currently, it is quite clear that he will be the man to lead the side when Clarke steps aside. In fact, Clarke may have already played his final Test, if his back injury is as bad as some have reported.
Smith appears to have the world at his feet. If he can retain his enthusiasm for the game, and continue his fine batting form, then he can expect to enjoy a long stint in Australia’s second most important job.