He is not the prettiest of batsman. He is not easy on the eye. He is not an extravagant shot-maker. He also does not have the greatest record in ODI cricket – 3810 runs in 104 innings at an average of 41.41 and strike rate of 86.31, including 8 hundreds and 23 fifties – 8 Australian batsmen have a higher ODI average (min. 1000 runs). His form of late has also been quite average and he had scored just 294 runs in 9 innings in the group stages of the 2019 World Cup at an average of 32.67 – this includes three single-digit scores and two between 10 and 20.
But, Cometh the Hour and Cometh The Man!
Steve Smith made it count when it mattered the most – in the knockout matches of world tournaments – on the biggest stage of them all.
He top-scored for Australia in the semi-final against England at Birmingham. Coming in to bat at 4 for 1 (which worsened to 10 for 2 and 14 for 3), he resurrected the innings and was the 8th Australian wicket to fall at 217. It was an innings full of grit and determination picking a number of singles and twos keeping Australia afloat in the match. He anchored the innings even as wickets crumbled around him and put together 103 for the fourth-wicket with Alex Carey and 51 for the eighth-wicket with Mitchell Starc.
Smith has a great record in knockout matches – in matches that define winning or losing a tournament. In 4 such matches (three in 2015 World Cup), he has scored 311 runs at an average of 103.66 and strike rate of 88.35, including one hundred and three fifties.
Compare this to his record in preliminary matches in world tournaments (World Cup and Champions Trophy) – 609 runs in 19 innings at an average of 38.06 with no hundreds and just 6 fifties.
Nothing exemplified Smith’s temperament, mental toughness and his ability to raise his game in the big matches than his performance in the 2015 World Cup in Australia.
He scored tough runs under pressure in the Quarter-Final against Pakistan in Adelaide. Chasing 214, coming into bat at 15 for 1 which worsened to 49 for 2 and then 59 for 3 (Aaron Finch, David Warner and Michael Clarke in the pavilion), Smith scored 65 off just 69 deliveries top-scoring for Australia who went on to win by six wickets.
He then batted India out of the tournament in the semi-finals in Sydney with a magnificent 105 off just 93 deliveries. After the early exit of Warner, he put a match-winning 182-run stand with Finch for the second-wicket. Australia hammered 328 for 7 and went on to win by 95 runs.
He again came up with a match-winning innings under pressure in the final against New Zealand at the MCG. Australia, chasing 184, lost Finch early and it was Smith again, who anchored the innings with a patient and dogged unbeaten 56 off just 71 deliveries. He did not do anything extravagant but put a price on his wicket and did not take any unnecessary risks hitting just three boundaries in his innings – highlighting his ability to read the game-situation and adapt his game accordingly. Australia won by 7 wickets and lifted their fifth World Cup title.
Smith’s ability to absorb the pressure and rise to the occasion and score tough runs when his team needed him the most have defined his performance in the last two World Cups.
It is a special quality and to do it in four consecutive World Cup knockout matches showcases his exceptional temperament and batting prowess.