Even with all the fidgets, triggers, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, Steven Peter Devereux Smith is branded as the best Test match batsman, not just of this generation, but right behind Bradman. Although some will disagree, the averages won’t. Smith’s average of 63 is only second to Bradman’s 99.94 (minimum 20 Test matches). The greatest, since the greatest.
Excluding 2018 where he was banned, in the last 6 years, Smith’s average has never dropped below 70! He has returned to Test cricket, stronger and hungrier. In 4 Ashes 2019 innings, he has amassed 589 at a ridiculously unbelievable average of 147. He had to miss out a Test and a half, but he made up for that with his marvelous double century at Old Trafford.
The English bowlers seem to have no idea on how to get this maverick batsman out. They have tried all plans, all theories, apart from halting his innings at Lord’s, nothing much has availed. So what plan can work against Smith? Does he have any chink in the armour? Is he vulnerable against any type of bowler on this planet? How will oppositions plan to dismiss this freaky craftsman?
Which bowler can at least trouble him, let alone get his wicket? Let’s take a look
1. Mohammad Abbas
Mohammad Abbas. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Mohammad Abbas has just made it into the top ten ICC Test bowlers rankings on the back of his successful performances, both home and away. The Pakistani speedster has had a very impressive start to his Test career. On the second ball of his career, he took the wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite. He has picked at least one wicket every time he has bowled in his first 10 Test matches.
Abbas made his Test debut in the West Indies in April 2017 where he took 15 wickets in 3 matches. The pacer has been fruitful even on the dry and spin-friendly conditions in the UAE. In 6 matches in the UAE, he has picked 27 wickets at an imposing average of 17!
The right-hand pacer had a remarkable series at home against Australia last year. Against a Smith-less Aussie batting line-up, he gobbled a total of 17 wickets in 2 games including five-fers in each innings of the second Test in Abu Dhabi. Abbas is accurate with his line and lengths around the off-stump where every batsman feels uncomfortable.
Bowling to Steve Smith a bowler needs to be patient and consistent in the fifth stump channel; a quality Abbas carries alongside swinging the ball in either direction. However, Smith has returned to international cricket with great form. It would be a stimulating match-up between the duo when Pakistan tour Australia later in the year.
2. Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja. (Photo Source: Twitter)
There is a reason England brought in Jack Leach into their Ashes squad; because Steve Smith is most vulnerable against left-arm off-spin than any other type of bowler. Before the start of the Ashes 2019, Smith averaged less than 40 against left-arm off-spinners and under 50 versus leg-spinners, which is still plenty less than his average against pacers and right-arm off-spinners. Moreover, it is the ball turning away from Smith which the world recognizes as his ‘weakness’. And who better than Ravindra Jadeja to exploit that.
More than anything, Jadeja is known for his accuracy while bowling in Test matches. Along with his batting and fielding, it’s his control and efficiency with the ball in hand which has made him an indispensable player. Steve Smith’s struggles versus the ball drifting away are well-identified; 6 times by Yasir Shah, 5 by Rangana Herath, 3 times by Keshav Maharaj and even Dean Elgar has got the wicket of Smith twice!
Also, Jadeja enjoys bowling against Australia. In 10 Test matches he has scalped 56 wickets, the most he has against any team. The all-rounder has dismissed Smith 4 times already in the 12 innings. Australia will travel to India next year as part of the Test Championship and these two giants will face off against each other to set up for an exciting bout.
3. Jasprit Bumrah
Jasprit Bumrah. (Photo by RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images)
India was always known for its embarrassment of riches in terms of batsman and spinners. Hardly an Indian pacer has stayed consistently prominent in the international arena in the last decade as Jasprit Bumrah has. He rose to the attention of everyone with his heroics in the IPL, and then for the Indian team in limited-overs cricket.
Virat Kohli unleashed Bumrah in the Test arena on the tour to South Africa last year. Many people raised doubts about his sustainably in the longer format, considering his distinctive action and a stammered run-up. But Bumrah has silenced everyone in a space of 12 test matches. The 25-year-old has bagged a total of 62 wickets at 19 on four overseas tours, including a five-fer on each of these tours.
It is not only his knack of picking wickets but his absolute genius mind which makes him the best fast bowler of this generation. Whether it was the slower yorker to Shaun Marsh or exposing Jonny Bairstow’s off-stump weakness or the recent agony he bestowed upon the West Indies batters; Jasprit Bumrah executes his plans to inch perfection.
Bumrah has leaped to the third position in the Test bowlers rankings. There is no question whatsoever that Bumrah will have certain plots and strategies against Smith when they face-off. Maybe a drill of bouncers, occasional pinpoint yorker and just consistently bowling in the channel outside off; the contest between Steve Smith and Jasprit Bumrah will surely be an intriguing one.
4. Kagiso Rabada
Kagiso Rabada of South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Standing 6 feet 3 inches tall, Kagiso Rabada is one of the most lethal and fiery pacers in world cricket at the moment. With Dale Steyn at the fag end of his career, South Africa has found an exceptional talent in Rabada. A genuine and typical tearaway fast bowler. Steams in the run-up, smooth action and the tall height generating the pace, bounce, and intimidation; Rabada is as good as a young pacer can get.
The 24-year-old already has 176 wickets in 37 Test matches with 9 five-fers. Rabada is second on ICC Test bowlers rankings and he has a wood over the number one test batsman. Rabada has dismissed Steve Smith thrice in 12 test innings they have faced each other.
His former teammate, Morne Morkel too has dismissed Smith three times; suggesting some susceptibility against tall pacers. The trio of Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi will look to touch the bar set by their predecessors.
5. Jofra Archer
Steve Smith. (Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)
In the post-lunch session on day 4 of the second Ashes 2019 Test at Lord’s, the world witnessed one of the most hostile, enthralling and captivating passages of Test match cricket. Jofra Archer hurled down a barrage of bouncers towards Steve Smith- one of them which hit Smith near the neck and had to be taken off the field. Archer had announced his arrival on the international stage in the World Cup. He was England’s leading wicket-taker and was pivotal in their maiden world cup triumph.
In that spell against Australia, his average speed in one of the over was 92.7 mph; the fastest over by an Englishmen in tests. Steve Smith is a great player of the short ball, but against Archer, even the best test batsman flinched and startled. He did all this on his debut while clocking 95 mph and looked as subtle and carefree as a West Indian can be.
The Barbadian was fast-tracked into the English team before the World Cup. Archer is once in a generation bowler for England. There haven’t been such bowlers in the English cricket history who can rack up the pace as Archer does. He is raw, he is vastly skillful, he resembles the West Indian bowlers from the 80s. Surely, the 24-year-old is here to stay. Archer bowling to Smith in the next Ashes series on the fast tracks in Australia will be a fascinating gala.
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