Since the conclusion of The Ashes series in the English summer of 2019, people are lining up to copy Steve Smith’s unorthodox style of batting. And why not? After all, he put on an entertaining display of batting sending the English on a leather hunt. Be it the way he leaves the ball or his mannerisms, Steve Smith is fascinating to watch.
People who watch the game- the fans and the experts wonder-How can Steve Smith, a batsman who possesses a technique that is highly unusual and outside the scope of the coaching manual, be so successful. It all comes down to his mental resolve.
“90-95% of the game is mental and decision making,” says Smith in his Instagram video where he talks about the mental aspects of the game. He provides some interesting insights into the mental aspects of the game that he focuses on. One of these mental aspects is visualization. “I like to think about who I am coming up against. For instance, say, I am playing against England in an Ashes game, I think about Stuart Broad and where he is likely to bowl to me, where I am going to score my runs. I picture him running in at me, I picture hitting the ball through the gap and it going to the boundary.”
What differentiates a good player and a great one is that a great player is able to consistently perform well over a long period of time. They have a routine- doing the same things over and over again. “I do the same thing every time I walk to the crease,” says Smith. He goes on to talk about his idiosyncrasies, which have been well documented. Smith also emphasizes on the need to switch on and off in order to bat for longer periods of time, and also about game awareness, “catching your thinking” and doing what is necessary for the team in a given situation. By his own admission, he goes through his visualization processes at night which results in him compromising with his sleep during matches.
Another one of Smith’s attributes is to adapt and survive. Sachin Tendulkar analyzed Smith’s technique and his strategy of handling the English bowling attack during the Ashes 2019, especially against Jofra Archer. The Master Blaster observed that Smith was getting in line of the short-pitched deliveries from Archer with his weight limited on the back foot, which was also the reason why he got hit and was subsequently ruled out of the Headingley test match which England won courtesy the heroics of a certain Ben Stokes. In the remaining two test matches, Smith made a change in his stance and his strategy so that he played the short balls from Jofra Archer better while foiling England’s plan of getting him out in the leg slip, which he eventually succumbed to in the last innings of the series, but not before getting scores of 211, 82 and 80 in the three innings before that.
Smith’s technique hasn’t always been the same. In an interview in 2017 by cricket.com.au, Mark Taylor pointed out the change in his technique, the pronounced back and across the movement. Smith revealed that, earlier, he had no trigger movement and was very still on his back foot. “I could be drawn a little bit wide and be able to nick. I used to get out that way. So it was actually in the middle of a game of the WACA test match (The Ashes 2013-14), where they were bowling short to me, and I decided to do a pre limb movement back and across to get out of the way of the ball and everything just sort of clicked into place and it felt really good and I have continued doing it. For me, it’s about trying to minimalize the ways that you get out.” Changing one’s technique to suit the demands of the game is not unheard of. All great players do it to find a way to score more runs at different stages of their careers. Steve Smith at top of the order of the Australian batting line up has been impeccable. Since October 2014, his graph has gone upwards:
Steve Smith spends a lot of time in the nets training, hitting a lot of balls, and continuously working on his game. But he doesn’t stop at that. In a chat with cricket.com.au, in 2018, he revealed that he tried to observe and learn from the likes of Kane Williamson, AB de Villiers, and Virat Kohli. “Actually, a few years ago, I tried to bat like Kane Williamson and play the ball really late,” he admitted. He said that he observes different players, the way they play, what works for them and sometimes tries to incorporate that into his game as well. “I have copied a bit of what AB de Villiers does as well. The way I sort of go back and across and sort of open myself up and set myself to just play the ball, more when the ball is reversing. A little bit of Virat, the way he plays spin and his hands, the way he hits the ball through the off-side, probably learned a bit out of that. These guys are the best players in the world for a reason, so you try and get whatever you can out of it.”
Steve Smith will be turning 31 on 2nd June 2020. Going forward, he will have to face a challenge that every cricketer has to face- slowing reflexes. Considering that he relies heavily on his hand-eye coordination, it will be interesting to see how he copes with this challenge. Will he get better and continue to churn out the runs or will time slow him down? Only time will tell.
For now, you can be assured that wherever he is, Steven Peter Devereux Smith is either batting or shadow batting.
An overview of few records of Steve Smith
- Steve Smith holds the record for the fastest 7,000 test runs. He is also the youngest batsman to score 6,000 test runs.
- Achieved second-best career rating (947) after Don Bradman (961) in the test rankings. He is also the second youngest batsman to top the Test rankings.
- He has the 5th best conversion rate in the history of test cricket (minimum 7,000 runs).
- Holds the record for the most consecutive 50+ scores (5) in 50 over World Cups along with Virat Kohli.
- He has the best average in 50 over World Cup knockouts (minimum 150 runs).
- Most frequent to play 200+ Test deliveries in history of test cricket (minimum 7,000 runs).
- 7th most frequent batsman to cross 150+ run mark in history test cricket (minimum 7,000 runs).
- He has the fifth-best Innings/Duck ratio (33) in Tests after Lloyd, M Taylor, Dravid and Hammond (minimum 7,000 runs).
- Fastest Aussie to 10,000 international runs.
- He is one of the only two batsmen in history with 10,000 international runs to average over 50.