STEVE SMITH: AN ENIGMA

Taimoor Shabih

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A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward.
— George R.R. Martin

The path to redemption is one treaded by many. It is a natural human desire to absolve yourself of your past sins and start afresh. We all have our own ghosts to overcome and no two people respond to adversity in the same way. What is often fascinating to observe is how the best amongst us respond to such challenges once they are backed into a corner. It is their response in such situations that often defines their character from then onwards.

Steve Smith has, in many ways, subverted the notion of orthodox batting. He has almost single handedly proven that technique, whilst important, isn’t the be all and end all of a batsman’s career. What he has managed to pull off is a highly personalized batting style that has been purpose fitted by himself, for himself. The bigger implications for this batting style, however, is how it has the potential to change how young batsmen are coached all around the world.

The fundamentals that make a good batsman are still present. He watches the ball with eagle eyed precision and he is not afraid of utilising his footwork to move around and target different areas of the ground. Over the years, he’s incorporated a prelim movement back and across to get out of the way of the ball, which reduces the chances of outside edges. He’s changed from batting at middle and leg to just about middle and off. According to Smith, it’s all about limiting the chances in which he can get out, and he’s been able to do that successfully over the years. 

However, what does stand out a lot in his technique is how he actually gets bat on ball.

He is often off balance. His footwork can be messy. He often manages to hit the ball with only 1 hand one bat. The execution of his shots might come across as a bit lazy at times. His batting lacks the expert craftsmanship that some of his contemporaries might possess. But that’s the whole point of his batting. It’s all about getting the job done. He makes it work. He has taken the beauty out of batting, and Cricket is better because of it.

This decomposition of batting into its most barebones concept, but adding his own personal touch to it, is what makes Smith’s impact so profound. No longer should kids feel the need to stick to a rigorous by the book technique which expects them to have a certain backlift when attempting a pull shot. No longer should there be an expectation that aesthetically pleasing batting is the cornerstone of a successful batsman. The notion that there is a set template for batting greatness has been challenged and disproven by this man. 

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Even the most loyal Smith fans must’ve pondered what would happen to the man after he was forbidden from playing Cricket at the highest level for 1 whole year. Would we recognise the same old Smith? Had we lost a genius for a crime that he had to take the fall for but did not really commit? 

What is scariest about Smith’s career trajectory is that not only has he sustained this level of performance for so long, he has managed to take his game to the next level in his comeback series to Tests. He has managed to give birth to something that sits between him and his rivals. Daylight. 

Perhaps what makes Smith so appealing to watch is the fact that he lacks the polish that you would expect from international batsmen. Cricket fans are a curious bunch. We often try to bring up stats and numbers to help distinguish players from each other and create artificial brackets where the quality of a batsman is what determines where he fits in the spectrum. Smith’s unorthodox approach to the game is something that peaks the curiosity of every Cricket watcher. His lack of craftsmanship is what helps the average fan relate to him. It reminds us that those of us who don’t have solid techniques or expert shot placement have some representation at the highest level. The shear wonderment you feel when you witness one of your own hammer bowling attacks all over the world is what binds fans to Smith.