Can someone film Steve Smith when he is sleeping, please? Does he sleepwalk? Does he ever stay still? If you get past his bodily ticks — the twitches and the frenetic movements of a 3-year old unable to be still, you get to the essence of his art: the time he has to play a shot. Is it an illusion created by feverish moves that when his muscles finally calm down prior to meeting the ball that it seems he has more time
The stillness after the storm, creating that illusion but that can’t be it. Just look how late he plays the ball, or leaves it outside off. The military-snap leave in particular, when he yanks the bat at the last instant, in seeming mockery of the bowler — the ball seems to be almost kissing the bat when Smith turns prudish and sends it away harshly.
And at times, it does seem he has two shots for a ball — usually said about many good players but only the greats actually possess that. Not even Virat Kohli has that. Kohli’s shots are picture-perfect but they rarely give the impression that he was toying in his mind about numerous possibilities; Kohli’s shot seems to be the best possible to that ball, executed to perfection. That’s a tribute to him — that clarity of mind is what makes him excel more than say, Rohit Sharma.
Smith is different. Because he watches that round red thing like an obsessed lover. The late Martin Crowe had once explained the intricacy involved in playing late. “To play late, you have the see the ball early, otherwise you are unsure and playing the ball too early.”
One can see Crowe’s words come to life in Smith. Even as he is moving about and his mind is working overtime to arrive at the shot decision, his eyes are fixated on the ball. At what point in the trajectory does he decide the shot to play? At times he seems to decide so late, especially when he whisks the ball from middle stump to leg, raising hopes of lbw in the bowlers, but he is obviously in control.
In some sense, Smith is the most arrogant batsman of the modern era. Not because he thrashes and biffs the ball — many others do it a lot better — but in the way, he constantly undermines and teases the bowlers. The drive off the back foot. That last-instant leave. The casual swipe across the line as if he is flicking dirt off his trousers. The sudden decision to go inside-out to balls that he usually smears through the on the side.
Watching Smith bat often brings to mind Jacques Kallis. Not because there is any similarity but because they couldn’t be more different. No one perhaps has stripped batting of its accouterments as Kallis did – anything that was excess to the core of a shot was dropped off, the feet movement was precise, there was a sense of clinical cleanness to him; that was what made him great, and that was also why many cricket watchers remained aloof to that greatness. Read More