2017 Ashes Series

Smith has no right

Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar and..?

Debates about who joins this company will never end. Perhaps no other player does.

The next rung on the ladder is impressive and difficult to split.

Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakarra, AB de Villiers, Alastair Cook, Yohnus Kahn, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting. That’s just the modern era.

Viv Richards, Desmon Haynes, Garry Sobers, Greg Chappell, Graeme Pollock, George Hedley.

We could go on, but we are trying to determine if anyone joins the elitest of the elite: Bradman and Tendulkar.

There’s Steve Smith. The fastest player to 22 hundreds in the history of  Test cricket. Faster than Bradman or Tendulkar. He scored his 22nd hundred at Perth today and is now more than half way to Ricky Ponting’s 41, the most of any Australian.

It took Ponting 168 matches to make 41 Test tons. Smith has 22* from 58* matches.

It took Tendulkar 200 matches to make 51 Test tons and 15921 Test runs.

Smith has a third of Tendulkar’s runs (5650* and counting) from just over a quarter of the matches. His Test batting average is 62 and he averages over 73 since becoming the Australian captain. He is only 28 and his numbers are outrageous.

How far can Smith go?

For purists there is some doubt. A sense that you cannot forge a great career with that style.

Some say Smith has no right with that technique. So unconventional it’s a disgrace: back and across and squaring up. When he does get out LBW it is ugly.  But his technique is effective.

He scores runs all around the ground against all forms of bowling and his scoring shots, when executed, look as good anyones.

He can attack, be patient, withstand fire and pace and unlike many Australian batsmen of the recent past, Smith is not a flat track, home ground bully.

He has scored runs everywhere.

He has three tons in England, including a double at Lords, tons at home against Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand, India and England. A ton away in South Africa, another in Sri Lanka, another in the Caribbean, another in New Zealand and three centuries in India.

The quality of bowling across an era is a factor.

Smith has not faced the best of the West Indies or Pakistan but he has faced some of the best ever from England and excellence from South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Smith’s contemporaries include Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Joe Root.

Kohli and Smith are in front of the other two and on numbers and spread of hundreds across the globe, Smith is ahead of India’s new legend.

Debating greatness will fill many more columns and drive raucous arguments around the bar, but it is now undeniable that Steve Smith is worthy of inclusion in all discussions.

Extreme Ashes rivalry exposed

A deep roar rumbles around the Gabba. Summer has arrived. England are here.

Thousands of eager fans will pour up Brisbane’s Vulture Street toward the Gabba on Thursday morning for the first Ashes Test. Sweaty from the moist morning heat, the punters will gather in bars around the ground and resume endless predictions and debates about what will unfold throughout the series.

At this point, opposing fans might as well be different species. You only have to explore the comments on popular cricket pages to see the extremity inspired by the Ashes rivalry.

Some fans are certain of their opponent’s flaws and equally sure of their own nation’s superiority in every measure, but they’ve all imagined losing the Ashes and it is a catastrophic thought.

On the first morning in Brisbane, ice cold amber liquid flows from frosty taps and the pubs roar with arguments, laughter and reflections on past series.

Fans share their confidence, optimism and insecurity.

Inside the ground the GABBA’s smooth and shiny pitch lay uncovered, absorbing the morning’s sparkling sun. Its lightening fast surface awaits the anxious players, who in turn hear the rising chorus from outside the ground.

The toss of the coin approaches. It’s time to go in.

The first morning in Brisbane is a cultural icon. Cut into the late Australian spring, it signals the shift to summer’s bush fires, hail storms, cyclones and Test cricket.

Brisbane’s cricket ground is a graveyard for visiting teams. Australia haven’t lost a Test Match there since 1988. Twenty eight consecutive matches have passed without defeat.

It’s the GABBATOIR and by late-afternoon on the first day, it will be a cauldron of fire.

Lubricated by thousands of litres beer, the outer will be rocking. Especially if English wickets are falling at the hands of Australia’s formidable fast bowling attack.

Equally possible is the prospect of tumbling Australian wickets. Batting collapses are now as frequent as Steve Smith hundreds. Warner’s runs are vital but if Smith has a bad series, Australia will struggle.

Same for England. If Root fails, who gets runs?

England’s all time leading Test run scorer, Alistair Cook, has a big job. He must occupy the crease for long periods, protect the softish middle order and force Australia’s injury prone fast bowlers to toil away for long spells.

On the whole, this is a contest between two relatively ordinary sides. That will be good for neutral spectators. It might be low quality, but highly unpredictable and entertaining.

With Root, Cook, Stuart Broad and England’s all time leading wicket taker, Jimmy Anderson, the touring side has proven quality. But it’s the last tour for three of that four. Can they rise again?

If Ben Stokes does indeed join Moeen Ali in the middle order at some point this series, England’s spine would look tougher than Australia’s.

Have the Australian selectors got it right with Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine? Will Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb deliver?

Runs at the death will be invaluable. Whose tail will wag the most?

It could be a tight series. We haven’t had one Australia for decades.

From here. Both sides can win. Lower scores and dramatic fourth innings run chases will feature and the victor shall be the side with the greatest resilience to withstand frantic periods of intense battle.

Australia 3-2?