Steve Smith has always been picky about the details of his game. With around 9000 Test runs at an average of close to 60, you’d think Smith’s game runs like clockwork. However, for the 34-year-old, the one constant is reinvention.
Earlier this year, there was a significant difference in Smith’s crease trigger movements, or lack thereof. The exaggerated shuffle over was put on hold, and he explained how it was a deliberate decision that allowed him to access the off-side much more regularly. That classic shuffle and trigger were back in action for the WTC final, and it wasn’t by chance.
“I like it for the English conditions and how the ball bounces over here.” “It obviously worked when I was here last time,” Smith said at a press conference following the second day of play at The Oval, when he hit his 31st Test century. “And no, just because I get into positions doesn’t mean I’m going to do it all the time.” I may revert to previous tactics when I believe it’s required, but on this surface and with the bowlers I was up against, I felt it was the best way to go.”
“It doesn’t take long to respond. I believe it’s my more natural type of movement. So, no, it did not take long. I batted the other way in my first two county games here and then switched back in the third game because I wasn’t thrilled with the situations I was getting into. So, sure, that wasn’t lengthy. “I was fine after one hit out in the middle.”
Smith’s 285-run stand with Travis Head was the foundation of Australia’s strong first innings performance, as the former played second fiddle to his partner’s incredible counterattack. Smith began the day on 95, and it didn’t take long for him to reach his usual three-figure mark, stroking Mohammed Siraj for successive fours to reach his 31st Test century. Smith, as pleased as he was with his personal achievement, was all praise for Head’s lesson.
“I think I couldn’t have asked for anything more than two half-volleys on my pad to get me going this morning.” It felt good to cross that threshold. But, no, I was pleased with how I performed. I think I did a good job of applying myself. I left yesterday morning. Hit the balls in my vicinity, and yep, defense was pretty solid. “It felt good out there.”
“Obviously, a great partnership with Trav, who batted beautifully in the middle session yesterday.” I believed the way he took the game on, putting the pressure back on their bowlers and getting them off their lengths, benefited me at the other end as well. Yeah, that set us up for a good inning.”
In retrospect, Head’s century was a template that India’s hitters missed as the Australian seamers made better use of a normal Oval surface. Unlike their counterparts, the Aussie quicks were persistent in their lengths and precise in their lines, frequently putting the stumps into action. It also aided Pat Cummins’ team because they had naturally taller bowlers to cause trouble for the batters.
While it is one of the best batting surfaces in England, The Oval has enough to offer bowlers, particularly those who enjoy extra bounce and pace off the pitch. The track was a little slow on day one, but with enough sun shining down, it accelerated up dramatically on day two, making the circumstances ideal for the Australian pacers. Having saying that, they still had to adhere to the basics and take advantage of the pitch’s varying bounce throughout the game.
“I believe the length at off stump is significant. We’ve clearly witnessed some varying bounce and seam movement. So I think the quickest route home is to challenge the top of the stumps as often as possible. If it seams away and bounces or takes off, as a handful have, you can absolutely get the outside edge from there. Then there are the ones who shoot low or seam back, who use pads and stumps. So I think it’s about as simple as we need to maintain it.
“I believe it’s simply putting the ball in the right place more often than not.” I suppose it’s somewhere between five and a half and seven meters long. There’s enough natural fluctuation in terms of up and down at the top of the stumps. Obviously, Virat [Kohli] got a tough one; he couldn’t do much there to be honest, and hitting such spots consistently is difficult.”
With enough of movement on offer and the pitch showing hints of varying bounce, Australia’s score of 469 appears even more impressive, especially given that India is still 119 runs short of avoiding the follow-on. Apart from Smith and Head, no other batter has reached fifty thus far in the match, though a few have come close. Smith recognized that the track wasn’t as basic as The Oval in general, but he had a simple answer.
“I think I’ll just stay in the moment.” I’m sure we’ve all had a couple that either shot low or bounced a little higher. It’s basically just forgetting what happened the previous ball and playing the next ball, and if you get out to one of those ones, so be it, but yeah just trying to stay in the moment as much as possible – assume that nothing’s happening and just play sort of each ball as it comes I think that was the most important thing and I thought I did it pretty well.”