Problem Solver Smith Made A Mockery Of England's Major Projects > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Problem-solver Smith makes mockery of England's grand plans
It was the eve of the fourth Test at Old Trafford. Steve Smith was packing his bags following his stint in the nets. Meanwhile, some 7-8 yards away, a TV reporter from a high-profile broadcasting channel was doing a live cross to his station. Smith could hear every word of it. And he stayed back to listen in. Most of what the reporter was saying was about the Australian run-machine after all.
Smith wasn't watching on and eavesdropping with any malice though. It was all in good humour. And he kept raising his eyebrows and making faces - the kinds that we're now used to seeing from him in the middle - with a smile as the reporter highlighted Smith's tussle with Jofra Archer, about how England probably think they have an answer to stop him and how you'd expect them to bounce him out.
Smith heard it all with the occasional nod of the head as if to say, "Oh is that so?" He also waited for the journalist to finish his live report and for him to realize that he had a very keen and interested listener not too far away. Smith then flashed him another smile and turned his head like he meant to say, "Ok we'll see then," before walking away. At no point though did he come across as being smug or cocky. It seemed like pure curiosity with a tinge of amusement perhaps.
What Smith had overheard though was basically the reporter echoing what all of England seemed to believe after the No.1 Test batsman in the world had been felled by Archer during that dramatic day at Lord's. That they'd found a solution for the Smith problem. That they'd managed to put the brakes on the unstoppable juggernaut. You even had Archer, with all his two-Test experience, make brash comments about Smith. You had Stuart Broad come out and talk up Archer as some assassin.
But like with most things British and their problem-solving skills these days, it proved to be a false alarm in Manchester. The preeminent problem-solver in world cricket got the better of them again, and with some luck, ended up doubling the damage for good measure this time around. And you couldn't help but notice he was a little smug while doing so. There was a sense of, "so England, you were saying?" both times he took off his helmet and flashed the back of his bat to every section of the crowd on Thursday (September 5). And why not.
So caught up were England in their own whimsy and the frenzy around that one short ball, which was now apparently the perfect formula to eliminate Smith that they seemed to forget that he actually ended up scoring 92 in that innings at Lord's, and also that Archer didn't get him out. So convinced were England by their apparent strategy that they didn't listen when Smith literally told them where not to bowl at him.
"If they're bowling up there (at his head) it means they can't nick me off, or hit me on the pad or hit the stumps. With the Dukes ball I don't know, that's an interesting ploy," he'd said the day he was cleared to play this Test. Here was Smith actually giving them a hint on how best to get him out, but nah England weren't interested.
It was strangely Smith's second comeback in this series when he walked out to bat on Day One. But if Edgbaston, where he scored a ton in both innings, was more about proving to himself that he was still the top-man in the business, Old Trafford seemed to be more about reminding the English of what he'd proved to them in Edgbaston - that he was the top man, and England really don't know how to stop him, forget get rid of him. That it's he who has the wood on them, which is fast turning into a hoodoo.
And once England wasted the new-ball, like Smith had foreseen, by going for Smith's head rather than his stumps, you knew there was only a single outcome. In their defence, there was little on offer from the pitch anyway, and whatever assistance Broad extracted from it was totally with his own skills. By the time England realized on the opening day that they might have punted on the wrong ploy, it was too late. They were there for Smith's taking.
It was easily Smith's most comfortable stay at the crease across the two days, except for perhaps a brief spell from Broad with the second new-ball and of course the time Jack Leach dismissed him off a no-ball. For the rest of his 211-run knock, he was doing what he does - finding ways to score runs and putting on a show while he was at it.
It was all there - the mannerisms, the quirky animations, the self-castigation, the whole gamut on show. There were also a collection of breath-taking drives whenever the English overcompensated on their short-stuff and tried to attack his stumps with fuller lengths. There was also the outlandish swipe he pulled off when nearly on all fours to the extremely wide delivery, an image that summed up Smith's frugal approach to batting - never waste a scoring opportunity. And often he held his pose following a drive, to literally drive the point home that he was bossing the hosts.
A few things as always stood out in addition to his more free-flowing strokeplay here compared to earlier in the series. You actually wondered how many runs Smith would make if he did actually manage to pull off shots he's always admonishing himself for not pulling off - be it the times he yelled at himself for not flicking Broad through square-leg or for gliding a wide delivery from Craig Overton to thirdman and not hitting it to deep point for four.
England did try some different tactics in vain towards the end. There was the period where Overton tried bowling wide and full with a triangle field - short cover, short point and a deepish cover - but it barely bothered Smith, who just adjusted his position in the crease and dealt with it with no fuss.
There was also a moment which summed up the zone that Smith can slip into while at the crease. It came early in the day when he was stood at the non-striker's end with his bat resting against his hip. So focussed was he in observing the field that Broad was setting for his batting partner, that Smith didn't even realize that the bat was slipping till he nearly lost his balance. It was a poignant sign of just how invested he is in doing what he does best.
The more the English went for his head, the more it meant that he'd gotten into theirs. He breezed through his knock between say the 130s to the 180s before getting slightly edgier and more animated as a result with the third Test double-hundred on the horizon. But he got there with no fuss at all before pulling off a few more audacious drives to reiterate to the English, that he was still as impenetrable to them as he has been for the last two years. That they're nowhere close to a solution for plotting Smith's exit. And he didn't waste the chance to indulge in some "I told you so" at the end of the day either.
"I said before the game that if they bowl a lot at my head then they're not bowling at my stumps and trying to get me out lbw and caught behind the wicket. For them to go as short as they did and as early as they did with the new-ball, softened that ball up and played into our hands," said Smith on a day he'd flattened the English bowlers to the ground. And like the reporter a day before the Test, all England can do is shrug their shoulders and admit their submission.
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