Is Steve Smith past his best?Erik Schmidt |
For many cricket fans, Steve Smith has been the best Australian batsman since Don Bradman. But the 31-year old suffered an inconsistent batting display in Australia’s recent Test series defeat by India. It marked yet another troubling moment in Smith’s cricketing career and there have been many who’ve suggested that he could be past his best.
Like most cricketers, Smith suffered from a lack of playing time in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, hopes were high that the batsman would be back to real form for the Indian tour of Australia.
Smith got off to a very strong start in the first of the one-day internationals. Here the star smashed a century of just 62 balls which was the third-fastest ever recorded by an Australian. What’s remarkable is that Smith followed this up in the second match in Sydney by getting another hundred in the same amount of balls. All of which meant that Smith was awarded the Player of the Series award for his phenomenal batting performances.
However this commendable achievement was quickly followed up by some inconsistent form in the T20 internationals that hinted that not everything was well with Smith. This was instantly compounded when he had a dreadful first Test match against India in Adelaide. Here he scored just one in his first innings, and one-not-out in his second.
While Australia went on to beat India thanks to that incredible low score of 36 from the tourists, it did little to improve Smith’s form. This can be seen in the fact that the Australian batsman only went on to get a duck and eight runs in the second Test match in Melbourne.
Such bad form is all the more remarkable as Smith had previously managed to get an average of over a century at the Melbourne ground. But with a dismal average of just over 26 since the 2019 Ashes, it showed that all was not well with Smith.
Many had suggested that his absence from Test match cricket in 2020 could have been the key reason for his lack of form. Smith of course has other interests outside of cricket. He is a keen racehorse owner, and one of his horses even claimed a victory in the Bankstown Sports Clubs Handicap race in 2016. While a few racing fans may have used a bonus to bet on one of Smith’s horses at one of the bookmakers featured at horsebetting.com, it’s still the cricketing arena where most people expect to see him shine.
So it was with plenty of relief that Australian cricket fans saw Smith put in an excellent innings in Sydney. This featured the 31-year old getting a fine 131 runs off 226 balls on his home ground. It was an especially noteworthy performance due to the fact that it marked the first time in 14 innings that Smith had reached a century. What made all of this the more impressive was the way in which he followed this up with an excellent 81 in the second innings.
But finding consistency has been Smith’s biggest problem in the past couple of years. So it wasn’t hugely surprising to see the star slumping to just 36 runs in the first innings in the final Test of the series at the Gabba. While he managed to get the Australian team’s top score of 55 in the third innings, it wasn’t enough to stop India putting in a stunning performance to claim the series in one of the all-time great cricketing performances.
Obviously, this being Steve Smith, it wasn’t too long before controversy reared its ugly head. In particular it was the fact that Smith was caught scuffing the guard mark of Rishabh Pant in the third Test that brought Smith back into the headlines. This followed on from the Australian captain Tim Paine getting into trouble for letting his ‘sledging’ cross the mark into plain verbal abuse.
Thankfully nothing got so bad as to repeat the ball tampering scandal that caused Smith to get banned from cricket for 12 months. But it shows that there are still numerous examples of bad behaviour in the Australian team, and that Smith is often at the heart of it.
Such bad behaviour might be permissible if Smith’s batting was up to his usual exceptional standards. But with some surprisingly bad performances against India, it’s clear that the 31-year old will need to raise his game soon. Australia’s next games are a series of T20 internationals against New Zealand from 22 February.