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Analysis of Steve Smith’s Test career

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Steve_Smith_Australia_cricketSteve Smith came to Australia’s rescue with a magnificent unbeaten 141 in the first innings of the first Test at the Gabba. This enabled Australia to take a 26-run lead in the first innings and inflict a 10-wicket victory over their arch rivals. There is no doubt that Smith is currently the best batsman in the world in Tests.

Some purists might cringe at his style of batting and say that he is not aesthetically pleasing. However, what matters is the number of runs he scores. He has a great eye and therefore does not get out LBW much, even though he has a habit of shuffling across his stumps. He has played 57 Tests and has scored in excess of 5000 runs. That is a decent enough sample size to determine whether he has done enough to be called an all-time great. Let’s analyze his Test career in detail to see whether the numbers back that up. The table below gives his Test record at home, away and neutral conditions.

 

Venue

Matches

Runs

Bat. Ave.

100s

50s

Home

25

2544

72.68

11

8

Away

28

2693

57.29

10

10

Neutral

4

274

34.25

0

3

Overall

57

5511

61.23

21

21

 

Normally, most batsmen have better records at home than away. However, Smith has a brilliant record even away from home. Most batsmen would be proud to have such an accomplished record and what is striking is that he has played 28 Tests away from home. So, it is not a case of a small sample size boosted by a large number of not outs.

Some batsmen tend to do well against particular opponents. Smith averages more than 40 against each opponent he has played against in Tests, except Bangladesh, against whom he averages 29.75.

The different conditions across the world can be divided into 3 different categories. In Australia and South Africa, there is pace and bounce in the wickets. In Asia the conditions are conducive for spinners and it is a true Test of a player’s technique against the turning ball, whereas in England and New Zealand, the wickets aid swing and seam. The table below gives the record of Smith in these conditions.

 

Venue

Matches

Runs

Bat. Ave.

100s

Australis & South Africa

28

2813

72.12

12

England & New Zealand

14

1215

50.62

4

Asia

13

1200

48

4

 

So, he has a great record all across the world in different types of conditions. Most batsmen tend to average more in the first and second innings of Tests, as the wickets are normally good for batting and deteriorate as the match goes on. Smith averages 94, 57.52, 46.58 and 32.52 in the first, second, third and fourth innings of Tests. The one area where he can improve is in the fourth innings as he doesn’t have a single century, and just 4 fifties from 19 innings. However, that could be construed as nitpicking as almost every batsman will have some gaps in his resume.

Australia have emerged victorious in 28 out of the 57 Tests that Smith has played in and he has scored 3160 runs at a stupendous average of 83.15 with 14 centuries. There have been 61 batsmen who have scored at least 2500 runs in victorious Tests for their country and Smith has the 2nd highest average after the peerless Don Bradman.

Smith has played at various positions in the batting order and has batted at every position from number 3 to number 9. He has scored 1744, 1985 (79.4) and 1236 runs at the number 3, 4 and 5 positions respectively. If we take a minimum cut-off of 1500 runs at number 4, he has the highest average among all the 54 players who have scored 1500 runs at this position.

Overall, in the 140-year-old history of Test cricket there have been 93 batsmen who have scored a minimum of 5000 Test runs. Smith has the second highest average (61.23) after Don Bradman.

There are some players whose performance suffers when they assume the mantle of responsibility. However, Smith has scored 2971 runs at 72.46 with 13 centuries from 27 Tests. Once again at the risk of repetition, his average is second best to the Don if you take a minimum cut off of 2500 runs as Test captain. The fact that he features at the top in so many august lists is a tribute to his appetite of runs and caliber as a Test batsman.

Smith has scored 1146, 1474, 1079 runs in the calendar years 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively in Tests. In 2017, he is currently at 842 runs with Australia scheduled to play 3 more Tests against England. So, he will most likely score 1000 Test runs in 2017 also. This shows his hunger for runs and consistency over a long period. He has scored 1000 runs in a calendar year 3 times. Among Australians only Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke are ahead of him and they have done it 5, 5 and 4 times respectively. Smith is just 28 years of age and he is likely to be in pole position by the end of his career. Sachin Tendulkar has scored 1000 Test runs in a calendar year 6 times.

Smith made his Test debut on 13th July 2010 and had a relatively quiet start to his Test career. Till 20th February 2010, he had played 19 Tests and scored 1241 runs at an average of 37.6. However, from 1st March 2014 till currently, he has been Bradmanesque and has scored 4270 runs at 74.91 with 17 centuries. The number of runs is the 2nd highest in the world after Joe Root who scored 4434 runs. However, Root has played 8 Tests more. Smith has scored the most centuries in Tests in this period.

Conclusion

Smith has played just 57 Tests and has already done enough to be considered one of the greatest Test batsmen of all-time. He is second to only Don Bradman in a lot of parameters and by the time he hangs up his boots could well be considered the second greatest batsmen of all-time which will be a superb achievement when you consider the greats who have graced the game of cricket since 1877.

 

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