When a young Steve Smith burst onto the scene in 2010 at the Twenty/20 World Cup I was impressed. He had played 13 first class matches with a batting average of over 50.
He impressed in that World Cup, taking eleven wickets at an average of 14.81. However, I was surprised he made his Test debut in the same year.
I believe Smith debuted a couple of years too early and was a victim of Cricket Australia’s panic to replace Shane Warne. Smith, at the time, was being mentored by Warne and was billed as Australia’s next big spinner.
However, after starting positively against Pakistan, scoring runs and taking wickets, his inexperience began to show. He quite obviously didn’t have the temperament for Test cricket.
He was unorthodox and was constantly looking to force the run rate. He was definitely a short-form specialist at that time.
Fast forward three years and Smith is a different player. No longer is he a bowling all-rounder who can bat occasionally, he has become a key part of Australia’s batting line-up.
Whilst he still retains some of his unorthodox style in his batting, he appears more at ease at the crease.
In the Third Ashes Test he scored a terrific 89, only overshadowed because at the same time his captain, Michael Clarke, amassed 187.
That innings from Smith was probably the best innings I have seen from him. It was composed and controlled. It was what Australia needed at that time.
He battled early and showed the concentration which eluded him earlier in his career. Unfortunately it was when he tried to attack he eventually gave away his wicket but by then Australia were in a winning position.
But Smith’s signs of greater concentration were evident during Australia’s ill-fated trip to India earlier in the year. There he showed how well he could play against spin but also that he could graft an innings.
He finished that series as Australia’s second-highest run-scorer, behind only Michael Clarke.
Smith has become a dependable player in Australia’s middle order. He’s not in the company of Michael Hussey just yet but by the end of his career who knows?
His ability to bowl leg-spin is obviously in his favour but is also a valuable asset. Whilst he’s not going to run through an entire team he is a handy player to have available.
Michael Clarke has already shown his willingness to bowl part-timers and Smith has been a beneficiary of that, taking more wickets than Australia’s two front-line spinners (Ashton Agar and Nathan Lyon) but together.
Talk has also begun to circle around whether he is a future leader of the team. I’d say he is, but also, what else do we have available? Haddin is on the wrong side of 30, Watson is too injury prone and Warner cruelled his chances when he bumped into Root in a London pub.
Whilst I wouldn’t say Smith is ready for the captaincy now, I’d say he’ll probably be ready for it when Clarke retires. Smith has had experience captaining when he was the Sydney Sixers captain for the unavailable Brad Haddin.
His development in the middle order may see him promoted as his career progresses with his bowling becoming more of a sideshow. A Test century still eludes him but we may see him reach that level before the end of this current Ashes series.
So in answer to my original question, yes, Steve Smith is the future of Australian cricket provided he keeps his head screwed on and continues to improve his game.
Photo courtesy of theindependent.co.uk