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HomeCricketBe careful when calling Steve Smith "best since Bradman"

Be careful when calling Steve Smith “best since Bradman”

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Last Updated on 5 years by Charbel Coorey

I’ve been reading plenty about how Steve Smith could and should be considered one of the “greatest of all time” and arguably the best since Bradman.

When discussing whether a player is an “all time great”, various factors must be taken into account, and for me, Steve Smith doesn’t meet the criteria. Yet.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic player who has the hunger for runs that any player would envy. 1000+ runs in the last four calendar years at an average of over 70 each time is something very special – so special that it has never been achieved in the history of the game before Smith. You don’t average over 63 in 60 Tests if you’re a bad player.

However, Smith should not be considered an all time great. I am a realist – I speak my mind, and the terrible, flat MCG pitch for the 4th Ashes Test made me really mad. This kind of pitch is not an exception in Australia – it has become the norm.

Australia’s pitches for Test cricket over the last four or five years have been nothing short of a disgrace. Gone are the days where each pitch in the country has its own character. Now, every pitch is like a road, where batsmen drive the bowlers into the dirt. At a time where the Big Bash League continues to grow, the quality of Test cricket in Australia has become worse every year.

Steve Smith has benefited from this. I have no doubt in my mind that players like Greg Chappell, Allan Border and Ricky Ponting would have had no problems whatsoever scoring tons of runs on these pitches. In terms of what Steve Smith is achieving now, those players would have achieved even more. When the ball is not swinging or seaming, you can score runs no matter what your technique looks like, and proof of Smith’s enjoyment of flat pitches is his struggles on pitches that offer more for seam bowlers.

Just in this Ashes series, Smith looked all over the place in the second innings at Adelaide, where England got the ball moving around under lights. He scratched around and looked like he would get out any ball, something he rarely ever has to contend with in Australian conditions. If that was your first ever glimpse of Steve Smith, you’d be shocked to see his staggering career record.

Think I’m being too harsh?

Steve Smith is not the only player to benefit from Australia’s flat pitches. Here are records of some of the other key Australian batsmen in home Tests since the start of the 2013/14 summer:

Steve Smith is plundering runs in conditions where many of his teammates also do the same, against bowlers where the majority are around 130-135 kmph. A sign of a super great player is his ability to score runs in seaming conditions where his teammates fail, against quality bowling. The only time I can remember Smith doing this was when South Africa steamrolled Australia for 85 in Hobart in 2016, and Smith batted through with 48*.

These facts show why Australia struggle to win overseas in conditions that vary significantly from Australian conditions. They are too used to playing on flat pitches at home, and their techniques don’t enable them to adjust in different conditions, especially where the ball seams around. Steve Smith was simply brilliant in India last year, scoring 499 runs at over 70, in a series where Virat Kohli scored 46 runs at 9.20. However, we know Steve Smith is a super player of spin bowling, but what about seam bowling?

In the last Ashes in England, in 2015, Steve Smith scored two centuries, including a double hundred at Lord’s. However, as Geoffrey Boycott rightly pointed out in his commentary stint for Channel 9, these were scored on the flatter pitches in the series. At Lord’s, Chris Rogers also went big, scoring 173. At Old Trafford, David Warner and Chris Rogers put on over 100 for the first wicket before Smith came in. Australia lost the series 3-2, and in each game that Australia lost, they were thrashed, and Smith had a poor match each time.

Interesting tweet by @vijayarumugam

In the first Test, Australia lost by 169 runs in Cardiff and Smith scored in the 30s twice. In the third and fourth Tests, Australia were bowled out for 136 and 60 in the respective first innings of those matches, which were played on seaming tracks. Smith scored 7, 8, 6 and 5 in those two Tests, and was squared up and found wanting by England’s bowlers numerous times.

Steve Smith fell cheaply on moving pitches in the 2015 Ashes

You might argue to me that Smith’s away record is still superb. While this is true, have you seen the flat pitches that are killing Test cricket throughout the world? In my opinion, Steve Smith, while a good player, is not worthy to tie the shoelaces of the likes of Vivian Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Sunil Gavaskar etc. All these players played against some of the greatest bowlers of all time, CONSISTENTLY, in times where Test cricket wasn’t looked at with a commercial eye. In the times of Vivian Richards, who I believe is the best since Bradman, he faced the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson without a helmet, on pitches very different to the Australian pitches currently (which is an understatement). Those two bowlers were proper quick and scary, with Dennis Lillee arguably the greatest fast bowler ever.

Steve Smith is not the best since Bradman, because he’s not better than these players, especially Vivian Richards. Simple.

How many bowlers in Test cricket right now could be called some of the greatest bowlers of all time? Not many. How many are straight out fast and scary? Also not many. Allan Border, for example, finished his career with an average of 56, and played against a West Indies attack that I think Steve Smith could not handle, especially without a helmet. When you compare batsmen of different eras, you need to look at the bowlers and conditions they faced. The likes of Allan Border would have scored a lot more runs in the conditions that Steve Smith is offered, that’s for sure.

Pitches are getting flatter around the world, especially in Australia, and Steve Smith has benefited. For the upcoming tour to South Africa, the Proteas need to see this as an opportunity to prepare seaming tracks. Against a world class bowling attack on seaming pitches, I’ll be very interested to see how Smith goes.

I’m not denying that Smith is a fine player with hunger for runs, and that his record is incredible, but it is unfair and unjustified to consider him one of the all time greats, and potentially the best since Bradman. There have been better players than Steve Smith over the years, even though their stats and records might not match his. The rise of flat pitches, especially in Australia, as well as the decline in truly great bowlers, has helped Smith significantly.

When comparing high performing players since Don Bradman, Steve Smith, for me, is not very high on that list.

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Charbel Coorey
Charbel Cooreyhttps://cricblog.net
Charbel is the owner & founder of cricblog.net, based in Sydney, Australia. He started the website to fulfill his love for the game of cricket. Charbel has also been featured on other publications including OP India, Times of India, and The Roar, among others. For any story tips or questions, you can contact Charbel at charbelcoorey@cricblog.net.

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