2019 saw Steven Smith make an exceptional comeback to international cricket. He was suspended from international cricket in 2018 for a year following his role in the ball-tampering scandal. David Warner was handed a similar sentence while Cameron Bancroft was given a nine-month suspension.
Warner and Smith were making their international comebacks in high-pressure World Cup. Australia took on Afghanistan in their opening match of the tournament and cruised to an easy win. Smith was booed when he walked out to bat but couldn’t really get a big score in his first game since the ban.
The next game against West Indies was a decent one for the New South Wales batsman. He was dropped off Jason Holder’s bowling on 30 and managed to score 73 off 103 balls. His 85 in the World Cup semi-final provided Australia some hope in a rather disappointing game which was won by England quite comfortably.
However, his genius came to the fore in the following Ashes series, where he was the talk of the town. Since batting techniques are widely critiqued in the longer form of the game, pundits and analysts were searching for ways to get the better of him. Some people thought about dragging him across his crease and then nailing one on middle and off, pinning him right in front of the stumps. The others would discuss about bowling fourth or fifth stump line and nick him off.
Even the best batsmen in the world can find themselves in trouble against lateral movement and England though they had a chance of getting the better of him with a Dukes ball, which has a more pronounced seam. But all those thoughts were put to bed by Smith, who had a Bradman-esque run in English summer.
Australia were in dire straits on the first morning of the opening Ashes Test. While the rest of the line-up was found wanting at Edgbaston, Smith weathered the storm quite comfortably. Australia were dismissed for 284, while Smith himself had scored 144 of those.
In the second innings, there was more support from the other batsmen as he managed to score another hundred which helped his side hammer England in the first Test by a whopping 251 runs.
The second Test at Lord’s was a fascinating viewing as Jofra Archer was named in the side in place of injured James Anderson. Archer, who had caused a few problems for the batsmen with his sharp bouncer, was steaming in on a pitch which had slightly inconsistent bounce.
Smith, standing in a fairly front-on position at the crease, tried to get out of the way by a sharp bumper from Archer but was struck on the unprotected part of neck. He had walked out to bat after being taken off the field but didn’t stay out for longer and was dismissed for 92.
Smith shies away from a Jofra Archer bumper ©Getty Images
Later on, he had delayed symptoms of concussion and Marnus Labuschagne became the first-ever concussion substitute in the game, which proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Glamorgan batter. Smith had to sit out the third Test at Headingley and made a comeback for the fourth Test at Manchester.
The comeback was rather astonishing as he smashed a double hundred to put his side in front of the opposition. Smith ticks all the boxes a batsman but the interesting part was his different footwork patterns. A lot of his cover drives against Archer came off the back foot. A lot of traditional batting coaches would have advised against it but he still he managed to pull it off.
His golden run in the UK continued but the leg-side trap finally worked at The Oval when he was caught at leg gully. Australia went on to lose the Oval Test. Overall in four Ashes Tests, he scored 774 runs at an average of 110.57.
A lot of comparisons of him and Bradman have been made but according to sports biomechanics expert Rene Ferdinands, Smith wouldn’t have been the similar player if he hadn’t adopted a new technique. According to Ferdinands, Smith gets himself into a position like a ‘fencer’ and uses the ground forces well enough which gives him an advantage over others.
He was introduced to the T20I side against Sri Lanka in October. He is someone who doesn’t score very quickly in the T20Is but in the six T20Is he played, he has scored two half-centuries, though he didn’t bat in three innings. One of them was a masterclass against Pakistan at Canberra, where he single-handedly won the game for his side. Some of the shots he played were outrageous, dragging sixth stump balls wide of mid-wicket and then staying leg-side of the ball and launching it over cover point.
In the last two series against Pakistan and New Zealand, he has had a slightly lean patch but other batsmen have stood up and scored plenty of runs to make up for it. Neil Wagner has been his nemesis, bouncing him out four out of four times, where he had fallen into the leg-side trap. It will be interesting to see how he counters the plans of New Zealand in the third Test at the SCG but surely, 2019 has been a stellar year for Steven Peter Devereux Smith.