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Steve Smith - Best in the world

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Steve_Smith_Australia_cricketLook at the situation. Look at the scenario. Look at the conditions. Look at the backdrop. Look at the way he kept running out of partners but still kicked on. Look at how he singlehandedly drove Australia out of trouble and powered on to his 21st Test century. Steve Smith’s colossal knock, an unbeaten 141, at the Gabba against a patient and street-smart English bowling attack was one of the best of his career in every way. And the fact that it came in a situation of crisis, when Australia needed it the most, made it even more special.

He walked out to bat when England had surprised everyone by jolting Australia with a double strike pretty early in their innings. Stuart Broad had accounted for debutant Cameron Bancroft with a very good delivery that kissed the bat’s outside edge and flew straight into the keeper’s gloves. And Moeen Ali had set up Usman Khawaja pretty well to trap him leg before in front of the stumps. The scoreboard read 30/2 with Australia trailing England by 272 runs. The situation demanded a rescue act and the responsibility was on Steve Smith’s shoulders.  

With Smith at one end and David Warner at the other, Australia couldn’t have asked for a more reliable pair to bail them out of this situation. However, another shock rattled Australia 9.1 overs and 29 runs later as Jake Ball claimed the wicket of Warner. The situation now demanded Smith to marshal Australia’s shaky middle order.

Three of England’s five main bowlers had wickets to their name. And it was now time for James Anderson, England’s best and most experienced bowler, to join the party. A deceptive off-cutter came drifting inwards and trapped Peter Handscomb plumb in front of the stumps. Originally given not out, the decision was over turned following England’s review. Smith was running out of partners. He needed someone who could stick with him in his mission. And he got that person in Shaun Marsh.

The English pacers were bowling better than the Aussies and it was difficult to survive out there. But, the duo stuck to their task. They showed patience, leaving the good deliveries alone and scoring runs whenever they found an opportunity. Shaun Marsh flourished in Steve Smith’s presence as well, and Australia finished Day two on 165/4 with Smith unbeaten on 65 and Marsh on 44. The partnership worth 89 runs had kept Australia in the match.

However, as Day three began, Smith found himself in the same situation again. Marsh departed just after scoring his fifty with the partnership worth 99 runs and Australia once again lost the plot. Smith was left searching for partners at one end. He looked like a lone warrior trying to keep the battle going, trying to keep Australia in the contest on his own. Tim Paine and Mitchell Starc departed in quick succession and Australia found themselves reeling on 209/7, still trailing England by 93 runs.

However, Steve Smith found an able partner in Pat Cummins, who battled out 188 deliveries with him at the crease. He showed a lot of confidence in Cummins as he let him face the majority of the deliveries. And Cummins repaid the faith shown by his skipper as well. He took the pressure off Smith a lot as he faced 120 deliveries, scoring 42 runs before he got dismissed by Chris Woakes. But he had helped his skipper and team to get out of trouble by then.

Just before Cummins was dismissed, Smith reached his 21st Test ton with a beautiful cover drive off Stuart Broad to move to 101. It came after the hard toil of facing 261 deliveries, the slowest in terms of balls faced by an Australian batsman in Tests since 2010. But Smith would have been happy that his patience paid off in the end.

Smith was pumped. And why wouldn’t he be. It always feels great to stand up as a captain when the team is in trouble and he was able to do it. It was his sixth century in the Ashes—the most by any batsman before turning 29—and also his fourth Test century this year. All of those have come in testing conditions and he had every reason to celebrate.

With Cummins gone, Smith knew it was time to pick up the pace. So he started scoring freely. A couple of free-flowing drives followed down the ground. A hook and an upper cut made his intentions clear. But the remaining two batsmen, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, couldn’t hang around for long. Australia were bowled out for 328 runs with a 26 run lead over England. Smith remained stranded at one end on a score of 141, an innings laced with 14 beautiful and classy boundaries, which came after a patient stay of 326 deliveries and 512 minutes at the crease.

He got a standing ovation from the crowd as he walked back to the pavilion and he deserved every bit of it. An overall average of 60.81 in Tests reveals how prolific he has been in the format over the years. For a player who began his international career as a leg-spinner who batted at No.8, it’s a tremendous achievement to be in this state as a batsman at present. He is leading by example. He is showing what it means to be a leader. Most importantly, he is stamping his authority as the best batsman in the longest format in the world at present with every knock he plays; whatever be the conditions, whatever be the situation! 

 

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Prasenjit, a techie by profession and Sports writer by passion, hails from the 'City of Joy'-Kolkat...

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