He walks around, he moves laterally, he shimmies down the ground and on occasions, he even derails a cherry wide of off-stump towards square-leg or mid-wicket. The little fidgety thing he does, the way he swings his bat, the positions he gets into and the eventual output, nothing he does seems traditional or prevalent.
That is what makes Steven Peter Devereux Smith AKA Steve Smith so special. He’s an artist who won’t paint the prettiest, but that picture will speak more words than any other. From beginning his professional career as a leg-spinner to being hailed as perhaps the greatest Test match batsman after Sir Donald Bradman, how did Smith work his way through this journey?
It almost seems surreal for a commoner to analyze his unparalleled meteoric rise, but behind every step, there was herculean dedication, mountainous self-belief. His career already is a body of work that shines so bright, it can enlighten the whole fraternity even in its darkest days.
Talking about dark days or tunnels which seem never-ending, he’s just been through one, a saga that needs no reiteration. He couldn’t have picked a worst location than England to come back from that horrific phase of life where everyone questioned his integrity, his love for the game (Can’t blame the people really). But then, it was written in his destiny that the enemy land will host his return and he had no choice to but to battle the mental adversity.
One might prefer using the word “Rival land” to describe England in various contexts, not in this one. The English media and fans have been a tad too cruel against him.
While the sandpaper costumes were definitely hilarious and banter-worthy props, reputed media houses repeatedly using the word “Sandpaper cheat” and fans wearing printed T-Shirts of him shedding tears wasn’t pretty cool. But then, that’s England, that’s the Ashes, the Aussies have done similar stuff in the past, so they can’t complain much.
Redefining mental strength with a touch of class
The World Cup was going to be challenging for him, since he hadn’t played white-ball cricket at the highest level for so long. He got a starter-taste of the English reception, for which the main course was to be served in the Ashes a few weeks later. With an impressive 379-run tally, Smith ensured his presence was felt, but it wasn’t as resounding as his other partner in crime David Warner.
The World Cup was done, the English were more jubilant than ever before, the mood was perfectly set for the most iconic bilateral series of all time. In walks Steve Smith with boos ringing so loud it began to sting and the scorecard reading 17/2. Every shot he played, every boundary he hit, every single he took, there was absolutely no acknowledgment, in return, the severity of the boos kept augmenting.
Nonchalantly he hung in there, took complete responsibility on his shoulders when the side was reduced to 122/8. He climbed on to a juicy half-volley, drove it through covers stylishly, reached three figures and when the bat went up, there was a yellow wall in the crowd. It wasn’t showing solidarity to the Aussies, those were all the sandpapers which still continued to mock the former skipper.
From an Australian perspective, it was a picture-perfect comeback, burning the ego of rivals by stamping their authority on the field. Just the mental strength it takes to combat a situation of this type and magnitude, not many understand what the 30-year-old had achieved. He scripted a story which is too far-fetched even for a fairytale writer to imagine.
The legend of Steve Smith continued to roll on in the second innings, when Australia were trailing by 90 runs and needed a huge score to stay alive. Once again, the big man stepped up, smashed home a ton with that quintessential unorthodox grace and with the help of Matthew Wade, his team set a humongous target for the Three Lions to chase.
Against all the odds and expectations, England were bowled out for a paltry 146 runs on the final day of the opening Test, making the Australian spectators rejoice while their counter-parts suffered in silence. The reigning World Champions might’ve had the upper hand in the World Cup semifinals in Birmingham, but this must’ve hurt them for sure.
I have been watching cricket for a very long time and a lot of experts would certainly agree to this, the pressure of the Ashes is a different ball game if you’re an English or Aussie. Just in context of the load he was carrying on his shoulder and to have delivered a performance of this stature, this performance from the New South Wales cricketer will rank up there among the greatest in Test cricket.
Everyone makes mistakes in life and Smith has been at the nucleus of some major controversies, we all know it. But life gave him a second chance and the effort he’s putting in to win back the love he lost is exemplary. As long he is there, batting his heart out to keep the nation’s flag flying high, he will definitely continue to inspire many more to see how beautiful this game is.
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