Two things were said and written frequently about Steven Smith’s fighting style when he started playing the cricket test for Australia:
One, that he went too far, and his bat came down from somewhere around the pit. The combination of the two made him susceptible to the deliveries received and an lbw candidate.
Two, with so much reliance on hand-eye coordination, he was forced to fail on the stitching and turning tones.
To be fair, these observations were on the spot, given Smith’s unique technique.
Teams around the globe have drawn up plans against him based on these perceived weaknesses. They tried to make it full and fair in the hope of violating his defense and claiming his counter through lbw.
Of course, it did not bear fruit, as we now know. Smith was fired lbw to go only a few times in his test career. Fighters with supposedly more organized techniques, such as Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Cheteshwar Pujara are fired more often in this way. This led to the elimination of the first theory.
In fact, observers then began to talk about how he was actually quite stable at the time of release and how his front leg was always rooted on his toes, which assured him that he would never collapse. As for the bat, he made a loop at the top of his backlift, but was in a perfect position in his position (pointing between the goalkeeper and the first slip) and thus went down quite straight.
Sewing grounds in England and turners in the subcontinent were expected to justify the second observation, as Smith dropped his hands on many deliveries. Sometimes he even hits them while defending against rotation. But that line of attack did not give too many results in favor of the players.
Like all great thugs, Smith found ways to succeed in difficult circumstances. His method of scoring runs also tells us that technique is only a means to an end and not to be everything and the end of the fight. His mental strength helps him to channel his ball after the ball with positive intention, replacing any deficiencies of his style of beating. He may not be the most pleasing batsman for the eyes, but he is still a beating modern genius. His methods are unique, but they almost always work.
So how do you plan to fire Smith?
No matter how successful a batsman is, there must always be a plan to counter him, and Smith is no different. In fact, the bigger the batman, the more plans you need: a plan might work for a smaller mortal, but not against a Smith or a Kohli.
First of all, I strongly feel that Indian disease should realize that all of Smith’s movements before the ball is thrown are insignificant. If there is anything, all that exaggerated movement only draws you into its trap – that is, it makes you make a straight bowl, looking for a lbw. It is not easy to ignore, but it must be done. It is important to remove the line with the fifth hub and a length that requires it to come all the time. If you have to make a mistake, you have to make a mistake in bowling, rather than short.
Since the first test is a day-night match, played with a pink ball, I assume there will be a little more grass on the surface than usual. This must be used to your advantage as a bowler. People like Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah have the ability to move the ball sideways after the throw and this is most effective when the handkerchiefs have to negotiate it from the front foot. It’s not that Smith can never be fired, but it’s important not to actively seek this form of dismissal. By this, I mean the line and length of the bowl that are ideal for producing edges and if the weird ball comes in and hits the pads, well and good.
Jason Gillespie: “You have to be ruthless with your discipline when bowling at Steven Smith”
Given Smith’s history against the short ball, you might want to jump in from time to time, but be aware that you’re not exaggerating. For players like Smith, an important part of their game is their ability to wait their time and see through a harsh spell. The knowledge that it is impossible for the disease to maintain the same intensity and quality spell after spell empowers them. For India, given that Ishant Sharma is not in this period to keep things tight, it is even more important to resist the temptation to go overboard with bouncers – at least as a main plan.
It so happens that Smith will settle down at some point and then India’s plans need to change. At that point, he might want to do to Smith what Australia sought to do to Kohli – he draws a line with six or seven hubs with six or seven players on the side. You need to be fully convinced when adopting this plan, as adhering to it for long periods of time will play an important role in determining its effectiveness.
Once the Kookaburra ball ages and the batsman is established, there are plenty of merits in playing boring cricket. The test cricket has many phases and faces and not all of them are beautiful. The key to success in Australia as a bowling alley is to keep the game under control for as long as possible. If you become too adventurous at the wrong time, he will not return.
Last but not least, if the ball starts to swing upside down, the foot trap is also a viable option. Although playing through the side of the foot is a strong point of Smith, sometimes your strengths can trigger your fall. The side trap of the foot is quite hard to execute, because the ball has to start easily from the outside (say, the fourth hub) and end in stumps, without actually drifting the foot down. The success of this move depends largely on the condition of the ball, because it is almost impossible to successfully remove it if the ball is not reversed.
Former Indian opener Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the last of which is The Insider: Decoding the cricket craft. @cricketaakash