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How do you solve a problem like Steve Smith?

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Steve_Smith_Australia_cricketHe is one of the youngest players to ever captain the Australian cricket team; a team whose dominance in cricket can only be compared to All Blacks in Rugby. Even that feat pales at times, as Australians have won the Cricket World Cup five times, including a consecutive treble. The All Blacks have won the Rugby World Cup only thrice.

However, before taking over as the captain of Australian cricket team towards the end of 2014, exactly four years before that no one, including the Australian selectors, had any idea what to do with this guy. His name was Steve Smith, a young 21 year old spinner who could bat. He was competing with Marcus North for a place in the national Test side.

I have some fond memories of the Ashes series in 2010-11. Steve Smith was asked to leave for home from Brisbane during the first cricket Test match. Media reports suggested that he was very upset while leaving the airport. One match later, he was recalled for Perth Test. The Australians were being eaten up by the English on home soil, a devastating scene which few imagined at that time. Neither his batting nor his bowling (for which he was better known) proved worthy at Perth. It took him five innings to score his second international 50, and that too came in the last innings of the last test, when England were already all but lifting the urn.

He was brought into the team as an extra-spinner. Well, really? Was he a spinner? Was he a spinner who could bat? Was he a batsman who could bowl? No one had an answer. And as weird and unknown as his role in the Australian setup was his selection. In, out, in again - nothing was permanent. Perhaps the kid lacked maturity. Perhaps the team needed someone with more specialized skills.

It was 2011. Australia had just launched a new T20 tournament, the Big Bash League. Smith was made the captain of Sydney Sixers. Not that his skills were the sole reason for being made skipper; he had been promoted due to the absence of Brad Haddin. At a strike rate of 130, he scored 166 runs during the tournament and claimed 6 wickets. Apart from his cricketing skills, what set the tone for his future was how brilliantly he led the side. The Sixers went on to win the inaugural edition of the Big Bash League.

 

His unknown identity about his role wasn't the only problem. His batting was way too unorthodox for the country where he was born. He kept moving on the crease; he twirled, he adjusted his helmet a lot, and sometimes, the shots were too unorthodox and ugly for cricket lovers to take it. Everybody in Australia kept complaining. "He isn't going the right way, he won’t get a central contract", "He's too flashy, the kid doesn't have a technique, why did he enter cricket?" social media rambled, but the kid kept growing.

He generally didn't get noticed easily. The announcer at during a Shield final said, "The New South Wales captain, Steven O'Keefe." This was in March 2014. Smith was in charge, but people didn't know it. Not even the official PA system.

He got his first 50 against Pakistan in 2010. Australia were bowled out for 88 in the 1st innings. He scored a brilliant 77 in the second innings. Australian captain Ricky Ponting was asked in the press conference if Smith was going to put pressure on Marcus North for the position at number six. Ponting replied with a clear no. He also described Smith's innings as "pretty entertaining and valuable". What perhaps he didn't mention was Smith wasn't a real batsman.

Smith wasn't back into the test squad until March 2013, a two year absence after his Ashes fifty. He posted several starts, with a top score of 92 in the 1st Test at Mohali. This was the time when Australian selectors realized his potential as a batsman. His role as a spinner was long gone.

The 2013 Ashes in England brought his maiden Test century, which he achieved in the first innings of the final Test match, at The Oval, reaching triple figures in style with a six. No longer were his twirls, movements, adjustments and shots viewed as unorthodox. It’s amazing how people change their views, and a man who wasn't considered fit for any role became the second most important player after Michael Clarke.

Fast forward to 2015, he was the highest run scorer for Australia in the ICC Cricket World Cup. In June 2015, he became the second youngest player ever to reach the number one ICC Test batsman ranking and just the eighth Australian to do so.

He might move a lot during his batting, he might look nervous at the start, he might touch his helmet after every 60 seconds to readjust, but he has matured. At times I have tried to compare him with Michael Clarke. It's a small illusion in my mind that he's quite similar to Clarke in the role he plays as a captain.

Smith is still young. You can see him get carried away at times. He throws his hands in the air in frustration when his bowlers leak runs and he can't do anything about it. But he still loves his game. You can see it in his eyes. He is Australia's captain, and no-one can do it better than him right now.

 

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Cricketholic, loves Australian Cricket. Biggest Mitch Johnson fan on earth. A CS Engineer still in ...

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