A few days ago, the International Cricket Council (ICC) released its latest Test rankings for batsmen that showed Steve Smith had reached a tally of 945 points to take joint-second position in the all-time list, along with Len Hutton.
Many years ago, after being repeatedly criticised for his technique, resulting in his weakness against the short ball, Pravin Amre decided to seek out Sunil Gavaskar. The middle-order batsman dropped in at the master’s office, filled in a visitors’ slip and waited for his turn like a common visitor. Gavaskar spotted him and took him to his chamber, where Amre opened his heart. It was the early 1990s and Amre had been scoring a mountain of runs in domestic cricket. But the constant criticism about not having a technique, a la the Mumbai school of batting, started to seriously bug him. The great man’s advice helped him clear self-doubt. The advice was simple—the best technique is what a batsman is comfortable at. There are no hard and fast rules. Amre went on to play 11 Tests and 37 ODIs. He scored a century on his Test debut at the fast and bouncy Kingsmead, Durban. A few days ago, the International Cricket Council (ICC) released its latest Test rankings for batsmen that showed Steve Smith had reached a tally of 945 points to take joint-second position in the all-time list, along with Len Hutton. His match-winning 239 at Perth in the third Ashes Test against England took the Australia captain to new heights. He moved closer to Don Bradman’s highest-ever ranking points: 961. Smith’s present Test average, 62.32, is also only second to Bradman, who, at 99.94, would always remain untouchable.
Now, as this correspondent was having a conversation with former India opener Pranab Roy on Smith’s technique, the ex-cricketer offered a practical analysis: “Apparently, everything about him is wrong, technically. His bat comes down almost from gully. He moves a lot in his stance. Then again, his bat is straight and he is showing full face of the bat while playing a delivery. His head is always still. His hand-eye coordination is superb. So his batting is a slap on the wrist to a lot of coaches who force young players to do away with their natural styles in an ‘effort’ to make them technically ‘correct’,” Roy said. Smith at the moment is battering the hapless Poms, riding on his ingenuity. He has scored 426 runs at 142.00 in four innings, including a century and a double century. The top scorer for England, Dawid Malan, on the other hand, has scored 302 runs in six innings at 50.33. So the Aussie skipper has proved to be the real difference between the two sides in the Ashes, where the urn has changed hands following Australia’s unassailable 3-0 series lead. It’s not that the unconventional methods have restricted Smith’s success to home conditions only. Earlier this year, in a four-Test series in India, he had scored three centuries—109 at Pune, 178 not out at Ranchi and 111 at Dharamsala. The hundred at Pune, on a treacherous surface, was the best of them all. It set a template for the youngsters about how to counter spin on a dustbowl.
Shane Warne in his column at Herald Sun has written: “To me a great batsman has to have made a hundred in three key countries: in England, against the Duke ball on seaming and swinging pitches; in Australia, on our fast-paced, bouncy tracks; and of course, in the dust bowls of India, on pitches that spin and spit. “The very best must be men for all seasons, and all conditions. “Steve Smith has made 200 in England, he’s now got a double ton at the WACA and he’s made big hundreds in India. So in the three toughest environments to perform, he’s done it and hasn’t he done it well, too.” The spin king talked about the BSB—Best Since Bradman—in his column. But going back to the technical part, Smith has proved that batting technique is a subject which is over-analysed. Captaincy is also something, which is extremely over-analysed in cricket. A captain is only as good as his fast bowlers—on dustbowls, spinners. From Clive Lloyd’s pace battery to Australia’s global dominance under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, this has remained unchanged. The Ashes is serving up yet another example. The three Australian fast bowlers—Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins—so far have accounted for 45 England scalps between them at averages of 21.05, 23.20 and 30.09, respectively. Only Jimmy Anderson has matched them in quality from the England team, taking 12 wickets at 25.83. His partners, Craig Overton and Chris Woakes, are going at 37.66 and 51.57, respectively. Their wicket tally is yet to reach double digits. Stuart Broad is even worse, only five wickets at an average of 61.80.
More importantly, the Australian fast bowlers have intimidated the opposition batters with pace. Starc at times bowled at 96 mph. Cummins also regularly hit 90-plus. The English seamers, on the other hand, offered 85 mph medium pace variety. Every top team in the world now has at least one 90 mph bowler. Even India have embraced speed, with Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. There are at least five more young fast bowlers in domestic cricket who can hit the 90 mph mark. England appear to have fallen by the wayside. And until Mark Wood grows into a world-class operator, they would continue to struggle outside their friendly home conditions.