Steve Smith proved his greatness on opening day of the Ashes

Australia centurion Steve Smith proved his greatness at Edgbaston on the opening day of the Ashes

  • The success of Australia’s Steve Smith lies in his meticulous approach to batting
  • Smith scored 144 in a remarkable innings which inspired Australia’s comeback 
  • He looks to be determined to make up for lost time after serving a 12-month ban
  • His versatility allowed him to stay one step ahead of England on opening day

I did a piece in the nets the other day with Steve Smith and it struck me that the greatest of his many assets is simple: he just loves batting.

If that sounds like an obvious thing to say about a bloke who averages 62, then Smith’s love goes deeper than that of most cricketers I’ve known. He says, for example, that he doesn’t sleep during a Test match — not because he’s a worrier, but because he’s visualising the bowlers and getting excited about the day ahead.

He said part of the reason he likes to bat so long is because he’s a terrible watcher. He wants to be in the battle all the time and views every innings as an opportunity to score runs.

Steve Smith raises his bat after hitting a century on the first day of the Ashes at Edgbaston

That’s why the tearful press conference he gave over a year ago after his ban for the sandpaper stuff was so poignant. Fundamentally, he’s a good guy who made a mistake and was faced with the realisation that the thing he loved doing most was about be taken away from him for 12 months.

He felt as though he’d let the game down and his dad down — the bloke who used to play with him on their driveway and feed him ball after ball. If anything, that ban has made him even hungrier. If anything, he’s now going to make up for lost time. That could be bad news for England in the next few weeks.

You could see from the emotion he showed on reaching a century in his first Test innings since the sandpaper incident at Cape Town just how much it meant to him. Finally, he was out there again, doing what he loved — and doing it incredibly well.

Smith displayed exquisite footwork which allowed him to manoeuvre England’s fielders

And the reason he did well, and has done well in England before, is that for all his fidgetiness, when the ball is delivered he’s in the perfect position to play it. And he plays it as late as anyone in the Australia side.

Over the last few Ashes in England, the inadequacies of Australian batsmen in these conditions has been obvious. Because they’re brought up playing against the Kookaburra ball, which doesn’t swing much after the first 12 or 15 overs, and on flat pitches, they go hard at the ball. They’re almost a bit mechanical.

But Smith is different. He’s not a front-foot player and he has soft hands. He manoeuvres the ball into gaps and he makes the bowlers try all sorts of things — as he did with England on Thursday.

They try to nick him off, but he stays patient, so they get frustrated and aim straighter. Boom! Four runs off his pads. So they try a bit of leg theory, with a fielder at leg slip. But he always seems to be one step ahead.

Smith’s press conference last year proved he is fundamentally a good guy who made a mistake

One of the things I like about him is that he’s his own man. It can border on the obsessive at times. He doesn’t like to see his shoelaces when he looks down at his boots. He has 20 pairs of gloves. He bats wearing football socks. Stuff like that.

But his originality also gives him the courage to change his technique mid-innings, as he did at Perth in the 2013-14 Ashes, when he went from standing still at the crease to starting outside leg stump, then shuffling across.

That’s what makes him a great player: he can think on his feet, almost literally. Without his latest Test hundred on the first day of the new Ashes series, Australia would have been in an awful lot of trouble.

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