English fans will be glad to see the back of him but there’s no denying Smith’s remarkable transformation
Steve Smith is a frustrating little blighter - for England bowlers and fans alike. For one thing, he looks like he’s just come from a colts game and there’s nothing more irksome than being smashed through mid-wicket by an over-confident fourteen year old. I’ve been there.
For another, his technique is so unusual that he looks like a walking wicket; yet he has become anything but. Indeed, while Smith’s method at the crease remains idiosyncratic, it is a million miles from the one he employed when he first came into the Australian test team.
Then, he stayed leg side of the ball, bat and pad rarely moving in unison, feet of secondary importance to whirring arms and blade, which were as likely to propel the ball to slip as to the boundary.
Now, Smith now stands taller at the crease and makes a significant trigger movement across his stumps so that, by the time the ball is bowled, he is neatly lined up almost on off-stump. Consequently, straight balls can be shuffled through the on side, while anything outside off can be safely left or dispatched through mid-off or cover. In those fundamentals, there is something of the Kevin Pietersen about his approach.
The results of the changes are plain: 1828 runs in Smith’s previous 15 tests, not to mention his brilliant effort at Lord’s. But what his success may demonstrate above all is that significant technical adjustments require a solid mental game. Smith, despite his relative youth, has confidence in his own ability. Likewise, Alistair Cook has been able to modify his game in recent times - albeit less dramatically - because he is psychologically tough.
By contrast, Jonathan Trott, who had become so vulnerable to the short ball, was seemingly unable to overcome a technical problem in part because the mental side of his game wasn't right. He wasn't the first, nor will he be the last.
On true pitches Smith looks impregnable. In neutralising Australia’s quick bowlers by preparing slow, true surfaces, England may thus have created a rod for their own backs – unless the plan is to draw four games on the trot. And you have to go back to 1987 for the last time there were four draws in a series in this country. A repeat seems unlikely.
It’s Ashes to Ashes next week as the women take charge
Whatever happens at Lord’s, we can look forward to more Ashes action on Tuesday when England’s women begin the defence of their trophy with a one-dayer at Taunton. Both sides seem to agree that the format of the series is improved by reducing the points available for victory in the only test: Australia won more games overall last time but a test loss left them unable to make up the deficit.
Before their departure to our shores, Aussie stars were out in force in Sydney to launch the Women’s Big Bash League, which will be inaugurated later this year, mirroring the men’s tournament. Eight of the games will be broadcast live on free-to-air TV. ECB take note.Reuse content