Steve Smith: From Warne’s replacement to batting genius | Sunday Observer

Steve Smith: From Warne’s replacement to batting genius

9 July, 2023
Steve Smith
Steve Smith

When the Lord’s crowd turned on Australia on Sunday, it was nothing new to Steve Smith.

“I’m used to it when I go around this country,” he tells BBC Sport. “I said to the boys at one stage ‘welcome to my life’.”

Smith plays his 100th Test at Headingley this week, but was probably not expecting any sort of hospitality in Leeds, even before the Jonny Bairstow stumping controversy. For obvious, sandpaper-related reasons, Smith will always be persona non grata in England.

There is, though, a parallel universe where Smith wears three lions on his chest rather than a baggy green cap on his head.

The story of an 18-year-old Smith playing club cricket for Sevenoaks Vine in 2007 is well told. Second XI appearances for Kent and Surrey could have led to a career in county cricket - and possibly playing for England - through his English mother.

“Mum has still got an English accent,” says Smith. “The roots are there, but my allegiance is to Australia.

“For me it was always Australia. That was my home and where I wanted to play. Fortunately I got offered a rookie contract at New South Wales. So many of my heroes were playing there at the time, so it wasn’t a difficult decision.”

Three years after his stint with Sevenoaks, Smith was playing Test cricket, not as the maddening, immovable fidget batter he has become, but the latest attempt by Australia to fill the impossible hole left by Shane Warne.

Against Pakistan in 2010, Smith batted at eight and bowled 21 overs of his leg-spin, picking up three wickets. By his reckoning, he was one of the 14 spinners Australia tried between the great Warne and current number one Nathan Lyon.

“I really only bowled to be involved in the game as much as I could be,” he explains. “I got lucky with the opportunity to play a few Tests.

“Batting was what I always wanted to do.”

Smith epitomises the age-old cricket truism - it’s not how, but how many. His how many is more than most. There is argument to make that he is most insatiable run-getter of his era.

A career average of 59.56 is higher than anyone currently playing with a minimum of 20 Test innings. Only five players in Test history average more. His 32 tons is also more than anyone else still playing. If there is a Big Four of Smith, Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli, Smith’s average being five runs higher than the next best of that quartet, Williamson, would suggest there really only is a Big One.

He is a batting obsessive, the subject of legendary tales of marathon net sessions or shadow batting in front of the mirror in full kit.

“I love all the aspects of batting. I love practising, going in the nets and finding new ways to play,” says Smith.

“When you receive new bats it’s like Christmas morning every time. I’ve got a couple coming this week so I’m pretty excited for that.”

(BBC Sport)