Steve Smith: Australia’s Phoenix rising from the Ashes


Is Steve Smith mental? Is he batting on an unknown planet? What’s with his ‘art of leaving’ that should probably be a book title by now? How does he manage to score so many runs with such a ridiculous technique? Wait, does he even have a technique? While we wait for our answers, ‘Piggy’ is flying high. He’s crossed the horizon by now. He’s in zen mode.

Steve Smith is not vying for your attention. No, he’s not. He doesn’t care if you heckle him, mock him, stand and applaud him. All he’s thinking about is how many runs he missed scoring because of a stupid mistake that jeopardised his career. And how many more runs he’s got to score to catch up. A whole year of opportunities that could’ve elevated him to another level of batsmanship was wiped out from his life. It’s got to be eating at him. One year and a few months later, he’s out there scoring runs at will, plenty of them. It doesn’t matter how they come. He’s not out there to fulfil your visual appetite. He’s there to satiate his own hunger. The hunger to outperform himself.

Rewind to 2018

Australia had just returned from the South Africa series in March that year. At a press conference in Sydney, an emotional Smith broke down in tears. He realised the gravity of what he had done. As the Australian captain in charge during the infamous ball-tampering scandal, he took full responsibility. He may not have led the incident, but a captain is only as good as his team. So he owned up. It was the right thing to do. And it was only fair that he be punished for the mistake. And what did he do during his year-long suspension from international cricket? Made a difference in the lives of other people through social work, donated his first playing fee after the controversy and tons of self-introspection.

Fast forward to 2019

Smith’s 1-year ban from all cricket meant that he couldn’t participate in the 2018 IPL. So when he returned to international action the following year, the IPL became his first shot at redemption. Unlike his partner-in-crime and fellow Aussie teammate David Warner, Smith looked out of sorts for the Rajasthan Royals. Besides the fact that he’s not the typical T20 batsman, the burden of ‘sandpaper gate’ showed in his batting.

There are two ways of dealing with a setback – you either bounce back with a bang or hit rock bottom. Warner was clearly taking the first way out. And it didn’t take too long for the Indian crowd to forgive him for his wrongdoing and welcome him back. But for Smith, it wasn’t that easy. Neither was he batting full-throttle nor had he hit the bottom of the pit. He was stuck in the middle, fighting not the world around him but his own conscience. Still, he gave it his all and ended up having a good tournament. You could tell how important this year was going to be for Smith.

Australia’s favourite son returns

Australia entered the 2019 World Cup as defending champions and successfully re-integrated Smith and Warner in the setup. It was a test of patience for Smith, who’d have to endure boos from all corners of the English crowd every time he walked in. Undeterred by the partisan spectators, he notched a century against the home team in the warm-up game. It was as if all the heckling motivated him, not the opposite. Needless to predict how the rest of the World Cup would pan out for him. But nobody expected Smith to have a more than decent run in the World Cup and a blockbuster Ashes in the same year.

Steve Smith

How does Steve do it? You can see he’s not afraid of Jofra Archer’s bouncers. He’s not someone who’d back down. He grinds it out till you lose your mind. He leaves, leaves and then leaves some more. England know that by now more than anyone else. They’ve thrown everything at him, yet the only way they can get him out is if he gets himself out. The way he reverse-swept Joe Root (of all the bowlers) in the hands of Joe Denly at backward point after his double hundred – that’s how you’ll get rid of Steve Smith. Only if and when he wants you to. And if you do get him out, it isn’t before he’s done beating you mentally.

Mental fortitude over flamboyance

If you’re someone who appreciates flair and elegance in batting, chances are you probably aren’t a fan of Steve Smith and his antics. He won’t bat like a trailblazer, but he’ll win you over with his persistence and mental toughness. He doesn’t have a trademark shot that you can associate him with. Perhaps, the only thing that amuses and intrigues you at the same time is the sheer number of deliveries he leaves. No other batsman has ten different ways of something as basic as leaving the ball. He enjoys the rigorous approach, it makes him even stronger in his mind. He’s up there with the greats of the game but in his mind, he’s still not anywhere close to where he wants to be. And until such time, he will continue to bat like there’s no tomorrow.