Steve Smith Scores but Struggles to Please: 2022

Steve Smith, a struggling but consistent beast.

With a Test average in the 60s and a fifty in each Test along with an average in the 60s for the series, Steve Smith’s form seems an interesting topic. He is scoring runs, making 50s, but he isn’t converting. The standards set on one of the best cricketers in the era are wild, and although the numbers are good the worry is justified.

A couple of years ago, Steve Smith was on a century spree. He was unstoppable, making a century every other game and tormenting sides like India and England. His mannerisms were over the top, and each ball was an event with Steve Smith out there.

The fact that his last century came in Sydney 2021, against India is a massive worry. That series saw Steve Smith struggle for the first time as the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin found ways to work him out. The strategy of strangling a predominantly leg-side player by packing the leg-side began, and Steve Smith suddenly felt suffocated. His strike-rotation was off. An year before, Neil Wagner used the short-ball effectively, and that led to teams using the short-ball coupled with the leg-side field to strangle him.

Steve Smith struggling on the leg side is still puzzling though. His style of play normally allows him to pinch easy singles on the leg-side. He has an exaggerated shuffle across the stumps each time, and easily places the delivery in gaps. With more fielders packed in the leg-side there is a slight possibility that Steve Smith is struggling to pierce gaps. Another concern could be his reflexes. At 32, Steve Smith’s reflexes and hand-eye coordination may be little slower. His unorthodox technique relies heavily on reflexes and hand-eye coordination, and Steve Smith will be devastated if those are on the wane.

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Through the Ashes and Pakistan series, the runs have come but at a much slower rate. Steve Smith’s strike-rate in the recent period is in the 40s, while his career strike-rate is in the 50s. The packed leg side may be a factor behind the lower strike-rate, and the slowness of the surfaces in Pakistan could also be making Steve Smith move in ways he normally wouldn’t.

In his recent innings at Lahore, Smith walked into bat with Australia in trouble. He hasn’t had the opportunity to shepherd his time out of a collapse in a while as Marnus Labuschagne has been consistent, but with Labuschagne out early, Smith had some of the older responsibilities on him. He started well, finding boundaries in the early exchange and the old Smith style was back. He was back with his strange mannerisms, but Pakistan quickly found a way to contain him.

His ability to rotate strike on slow surfaces was missing, and Smith, the batter who scored truckloads of runs in India was silenced after a good start. In the end, Smith was out plumb LBW, with his pad stuck. Naseem Shah worked him out, and Smith went for a grinding 59 off 169 balls, another slow fifty in a tough period. He batted well, but struggled and the Smith flair struggled to come out as the innings progressed.

Steve Smith finds fluency briefly.

The tough field settings has played a role in Smith’s issues multiple times this season and in the Ashes. At Rawalpindi and Karachi, Smith was out playing uncharacteristic strokes as well, and both were after making fighting scores in the 70s.

His strike-rate has been low, and Smith clearly isn’t finding fluency, but he has still managed to grind out some runs. The fact that he is being discussed despite bringing out strong returns itself is a talking point, showing the greatness of Steve Smith, and it will be interesting to see how he gets out of the current tangle to bring out the big scores again.