How he manages to cast a spell on everyone who’s watching him bat and make everything else irrelevant in this world remains a puzzle.
By the end of 16th over, Australia needed 30 runs off 24 balls in the second T20I against Pakistan at Manuka Oval, Canberra. Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz had two overs each to defend the total against a set Smith and Ashton Turner, who was struggling to get going.
Mohammed Amir bowled the 17th over and Steve Smith was batting on 56 from 41 balls. The first three balls of that over produced only two runs and a dot ball. Then Smith unfolded his magic wand hopping and dragging and walking through the shots.
16.4- Amir bowls full and across, pitching in the off-stump line. Smith does his mandatory shuffle to the off-stump, clears the front leg towards the wide line on the leg-side, bends the right knee and rests on it while balancing the front-leg back to just outside leg-stump and drives the ball through extra-cover for a boundary.
Almost as if an extra second would cramp him after all the motion he went through in three-quarters of a second, he jumps on his feet; balances himself and walks swiftly towards his partner as nothing happened.
16.5- A very similar delivery, however, this time a tad fuller on the off-stump targeting the right leg of Smith after his shuffle. Smith having cleared the front leg already, drags his right feet towards the leg stump with the left leg still in the air, brings down his bat on time to push the ball towards the gap between mid-off and cover fielders.
His bat came down like bowling in Ten-pin bowling. The only difference being the weight is on the back foot rather than the front. Smith was probably unleashing spells like Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter with his bat as the wand.
16.6- Remember the last-over dismissal of Smith in the 2017 IPL final? Anyone? It was a copy-paste of that shot, except in that final, where Smith had to create room before slicing Mitchell Johnson over cover-point, which went straight into the hands of Ambati Rayudu at deep-cover. Here he need not. Amir was bowling from over the wicket, and for the same shot, the angle that Amir created takes the ball squarer of point to the boundary. Both the deliveries were bowled at the speed of around 137 Kmph. It was the angle that made the difference between a catch and a boundary.
These three balls are what Steve Smith as a batsman is all about. What happened before or after that in this match is irrelevant. The worst part though is that the commentators calling him a freak, no feet movement and all that. I wonder, despite seeing so much happening in every shot with his specific method, how do they say so.
Smith is one of a kind batsman. According to Smith, he often forgets how to hold the bat. This is why he is obsessed with practice and does it so meticulously like no other batsman in the world. Daniel Norcross discussed recently in “A cricketing view” podcast about Smith elaborately.
“If you’re saying Hand-eye co-ordination was innate. He has that since he is 20 or 21 and he was getting out at that time. It is this dedication and the sheer amount of time he spent to hone his technique that makes the difference. He tends to get into existence that no other cricketer, not even Virat Kohli, who is obsessive as well. But Smith gets into a bubble. He was found practising his stance in the middle of the night tapping on the floor of his hotel room. That is visualisation gone nuts. He doesn’t try to dominate the opposition with his charisma. It is all about the ball and everything else is irrelevant. That lack of ego is what makes him what he is,” said Norcross. Karthikeya Date came up with a better description, “Smith doesn’t have a technique, but he has a compendium of solutions.”
I haven’t heard a better discussion on him for a long time. It is evident to the world about his practice methodology and the zone he gets into while batting. He can drive the same ball through extra cover and flick it through mid-wicket as he did on Tuesday. He does so with minimal orthodox footwork, but he does it with a method that suits him best.
For someone of his calibre, the T20 numbers are mediocre. But it has to be considered that he started as a leg spinner. In the ten matches in which he has batted at the top three batting positions, he averages nearly 48. The overall though is 27, thanks to the 20 odd matches he played a bowler.
It is such a pity that he lost the early years of international cricket being a bowler who can bat. However, every time when we see him bat, it feels like he is making it up for the time he has lost. In Test cricket, he is a legitimate all-time great. If he continues to be 70% of what he has been so far, he still will end up with numbers that are less to none.
In limited overs though, we are yet to see the best of him. With the game evolving and changing rapidly based on power, it is a sheer pleasure to watch players like him come through. He is not in the top league yet, but what we witnessed on Tuesday was magic and less to none.
The numbers are irrelevant. What is more important is that we are in the middle of witnessing marvels of batsman-ship unfold. And Steve Smith will continue to use all the dark spells on us, and do magic with his bat in the years to come.