Steve Smith’s 100th Test: The Original Among the Clones

It is safe to say that there has never been and cannot be anyone like him in the world. Not among his baseball peers, where he ranks near the top; not among the three batsmen of his country who have so far scored more runs than he has; not among the ten other luminaries who have amassed more hundreds than he has. He may not end up amassing a box of imperishable records, but one day he will leave with the quiet certainty that he has created something irreplaceable and irresistibly original.

Smith’s battles may be an acquisition; there is rarely love at first sight. That’s why irreconcilable cynics continue to torment him. But once you get a taste of it, it becomes inexorably appealing. Like Shane Warne creating the illusion of wrist spinning, like leather ball reading poetry on the wrists of Wasim Akram, watching Smith is the most striking experience in the modern game. He is a theater in his own right, the ringmaster of his own circus. He is a multifaceted spectacle-not only what he does with the ball, like both batsmen, but what he does before the ball has been pitched and after the hit has been made. With other batsmen, it’s just a routine. But in Smith’s hands, it turns into an event. Sui generis, so to speak.

The encounter with the ball, the main goal of the game, seems incidental, almost an excuse to tailor his maneuvers before the strike and his demeanor after the strike. As the ball is under his eyes, his head is majestically motionless, like a bronze almost doesn’t get his feet in front of the wicket, despite all the visual speculation. Only 26 times in 175 outings (just 14 percent) has he been caught in front of the wicket. By comparison, Virat Kohli was caught on the leg 40 times in 185 matches (21 percent). And in those innings in which he was caught out, Smith’s average was 59.84.

Shuffle tempts bowlers to target his legs. But, as they have often found, and still in search of him, his head, elbow and eyes follow, obediently, like marching soldiers. More than clicks, the cover-drives reveal his real touches and state of mind.

The temptation is to label him a freak. But he isn’t. A freak cannot subdue all the conditions to which he is subjected. Swing and seam, spin and bounce – he conquers them all. He has scored against the best bowlers of his time in the most adverse conditions. Against Stuart Broad and James Anderson in England, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in India. The average is 61.82 in England; 50.32 in India; 131 in New Zealand. With the exception of Bangladesh, where he batted four times, he scores 40+ in each country and 44+ overall. His average of 59.56 in 99 tests, the third best of anyone who has played more than 50 tests, cannot be acquired through mere crankiness. That is why Virat Kohli called Smith the best batsman of this generation.

It’s a career built on his love of batting, dedication to the game, sweat and

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