Getting Into The Rhythm Of Test Cricket – The Steve Smith Way

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Getting into the rhythm of Test cricket - The Steve Smith way. It was him trying to attain a level of perfection with his batting that only Steve Smith can aspire for

Getting Into The Rhythm Of Test Cricket – The Steve Smith WayIt was him trying to attain a level of perfection with his batting that only Steve Smith can aspire for

Twice in two days Steve Smith had kicked the pitch in disgust after having played shots that left him very upset. The first came in the nets at the Redlands Cricket Club on Friday (December 3). It was a full delivery chucked down by batting coach Michael Di Venuto with a sidearm. Smith’s attempt at a full-blooded drive ended up with the bat slightly turning in his hand and him slicing the ball. “Lazzyy..” he yelled, admonishing himself before shaking his head vigorously.

The second transpired in the middle of the Ian Healy Oval on Saturday (December 4). The bowler on this occasion was new Test captain Pat Cummins. It was a rising length delivery that squared the right-hander up, resulting in the ball catching the splice of his bat and flying into the direction of second slip. There was a little more intensity in his kick here than at the Redlands. So was the apparent level of frustration.

With anyone else in the world, these might have come across as signs of a batter battling form or maybe even confidence. With Steve Smith though, this was just another day of the week. This was simply him trying to attain a level of perfection with his batting that only Steve Smith can aspire for. Three days out from the 2021-22 Ashes, this was Steve Smith trying to “get better tomorrow, better the day after and better the day after that”. Just like he was three days out from the 2019 Ashes.

Much like he was two days out, at the Gabba. It was a far more at ease Smith on Monday (December 6). It wasn’t like he hadn’t hit the ball well during those first two sessions. There were in fact plenty of shots that did please him. And occasionally he would even give himself an, “that’s better Steven” plaudit.

Those first couple of days were also about finding his hands for Smith, another unique trait of this unique man. Each time he would play a shot that he was content with, especially a punch through the virtual cover region, off either front or back foot, he would immediately take the bottom hand off. He would then leave the top (or left) hand on the bat, the way it had been, and examine the grip for a few seconds. Then back to it. Unlike how it used to be with his former sparring partner in the nets, Graeme Hick, there were a few discussions with Di Venuto. Mainly around what he was trying to achieve from the session. The coach would chip in intermittently with some ideas. But mostly, it was just Smith trying to achieve his own goals.

The goal of finding his hands and finalising his grip seemed to have been completed by the time he walked into the Gabba nets on Monday. He seemed primed to move on to ticking other boxes. Here, it seemed more about just getting into the rhythm of getting into perfect positions, ball after ball, to different lengths and different lines. Then came the rhythm of finding the middle of the bat, ball after ball, to different lengths and different lines. The fidgety quirks and the positioning of the feet were all in rhythm too. This was Smith slowly beginning to establish his head and body into the rhythm of Test cricket. And so consumed was he in that quest, that even the slightest distraction wasn’t appreciated, like the time Nathan Lyon, who’d been bowling to him pulled Di Venuto away for a quick chat about his action.

It almost meant, Smith had to kind of get that flow going again, which he did of course. More punches and drives followed, with the occasional pull shot or on-drive thrown in there. David Warner now joined the net with the sidearm, and showed off his rapidly-improving throwdown skills, hurrying his longstanding teammate and even once seaming the ball sharply away from his bat.

By the time Marnus Labuschagne came on for a trundle, Smith was in the mood to free his arms and play some shots, especially off his bowling. He began setting himself up to go inside-out with the turn, and struck a few powerful blows, even aerially, declaring these shots to be sixers, even if his fellow batting tragic wasn’t in agreement.

He also did show the leggie some respect whenever the ball landed on a good length. And one time when Labuschagne ‘oohed’ and ‘aaahed’ after Smith had stretched his front-foot out and defended solidly, the new vice-captain of the Test team went, “what ooooh? That hit the middle of the middle of the bat mate.” Smith even turned around to the person watching him from behind the net and he too nodded in agreement. Labuschagne did produce one false shot from Smith. Then came a heavy drizzle bringing a premature pause to the session.

Smith wasn’t done though. He then shifted his focus to helping Labuschagne practice his short-leg catching, assuming the role of the batter. And he had the Test No. 3 on his feet, edging deliveries to both sides of him, and egging him to get to even some catches that were well out of reach. It was tough love. To the extent that when the others around them, including Justin Langer, applauded Labuschagne for a sharp grab low to his left with one hand, Smith wasn’t impressed. He felt like it was a catch that just stuck despite his body weight having shifted in the opposite direction. He wanted Labuschagne to stay stiller and the discussion raged on for a while as Langer looked on.

Twenty or so minutes later, Smith was back in the nets. The drizzle had passed and the covers had been lifted. This was a briefer spell, and he stuck to facing some spin from Mitchell Swepson in the far corner before returning to face a few deliveries from Di Venuto.

Like Smith, Australia too have made the most of the last few days leading into that first Test. Even if the Brisbane weather hasn’t played ball at times. They’d asked the groundsmen at the Redlands Cricket Club, where they were originally scheduled to play the warm-up game, to produce a pitch as similar to the Gabba surface as possible.

The torrential rain early last week meant that the pitch stayed covered for lengthy periods and the grass on top had turned yellow. It was a firm enough surface though for their batters, including Smith, to get a bat in against the pace, bounce and skills of Michael Neser, Mark Steketee and Jhye Richardson. Their Test fast bowlers, meanwhile, set the Ian Healy Oval on fire for two straight days, pounding down and creating tremors for their own batters with some genuine hostility.

And whether it was Warner spending one and a half hours in the nets during a session he himself referred to as “very long” a couple of times, or the likes of Travis Head and Labuschagne getting a working over by Langer and his sidearm, the most was made of Monday’s outing as well.

Like with all Steve Smith net sessions though, the cue to call it off was the best-sounding shot he’d played all morning, slamming an on-drive straight down the ground. That’s generally a sign that Smith is ready. Ready for the Gabba. Ready for England. Ready for the Ashes.

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