The Dominion Post
During the World Cup at 7am one day, Ricky Ponting was disturbed by tapping in a nearby hotel room. It was Steve Smith practising his batting.
Incessant knocking has now lodged itself in England’s head and will feel like torture if Smith carries on like this.
Smith’s efficiency excites historians and depresses its victims. Home crowd taunts of ‘‘We’ve seen you cry on the telly’’ fall flat when England’s bowlers are the ones weeping inside. At Edgbaston you could detect Smith’s persistence lowering English spirits to the point of resignation.
The paradox is that brilliance is unbearable when you are on the wrong end of it. More so when it looks like stretching across five tests.
In the stands, the locals sat and suffered, their jibes at Smith stripped of their capacity to wound. Another round of booing met Smith’s dismissal but then a universal ovation. Jeer, applaud, jeer, applaud. What difference, in the end, would it make?
If England’s followers were worn down, imagine how Joe Root’s players feel.
Their sole comfort is knowing the nemesis is vulnerable in the 140s. Until then they must endure his fidgeting, his half-hourly glove changes, his mountain of runs and his extravagant, pirouetting ‘‘leaves’’, which Nureyev would have admired. The theatricality of Smith’s batting routines is the counterpoint to his ruthlessly scientific execution, the technical accuracy of which sometimes obscures the artistry of his strokes.
The worm is in England’s head. Their psyche is invaded. Smith’s ubiquity is already a feature of this series after four days of one Ashes test. When one of your bowlers [Chris Woakes] comes off the field and asks a BBC radio crew: ‘‘Do you have any ideas?’’ you can be sure plans for removing the finest test batsman of his generation are running low.
Root’s desperation even led
him to position Jos Buttler at silly point while Stuart Broad was bowling to the Aussie limpet, who has scored 1116 runs in his past 10 Ashes innings, at an average of 139.5.
A stats fiesta followed Smith’s removal from a Woakes delivery he tried to drive but nicked to Jonny Bairstow. Don Bradman comparisons were once made only tentatively, as if ‘‘The Don’’ belonged in a Valhalla that should never be disturbed. In almost every sport there are debates to be had about who was the greatest. In cricket, arguing about who was the finest batsman would not keep the pub chat going long.
In Australia especially, Bradman was assumed to have bequeathed unsurpassable numbers. However good his heirs, it almost suited Australian cricket to have a point of reference everyone could work from: a burnished hero and spiritual father of the game.
Now, serious Australian legends allow the Smith-Bradman comparisons to be made without storming out. Which is not the same as saying the two are equals. A connecting thread is the ability to turn obsession into something unbeatable. Modern cricket is awash with analytics. There are plans for every batsman and bowler. The miracle of Smith is he defies all attempts to find a reliable way to take his wicket. He has to make an error to give you a chance. And his