Virat Kohli

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.

Bully the Bully

That’s the hashtag trending on twitter in India. Promoted by the nation’s major sports cable television station.

It’s an indication of the sentiment among at least some Indian cricket fans about the Border-Gavaskar series and it has supported the rise of another controversy between Smith and Kohli.

A cropped picture of Steven Smith ‘clutching his shoulder’ after the wicket of Virat Kohli stimulated anger among a few Indians here today. Depicted as ‘mocking an injured player’ and the ‘character of a nation’ the image shows an animated Smith celebrating Kohli’s wicket with one arm drawn across his chest gripping his shoulder. Kohli had left the field the day before with a shoulder injury and Indian fans have leapt all over the image in outrage, believing that their celebrated captain and national hero has been mocked.

But he wasn’t.

The image that appeared on twitter, which stimulated the madness was cropped. The arm and the hand, which gripped the shoulder actually belonged to Glenn Maxwell who was caught mid embrace with Smith seconds after the Australian captain had caught Kohli at slip. It’s a beat up. India’s Star Sports acknowledged this but the fire has already started.

Indians want to beat Australia. Some of them are desperate for a result.

That is evident on the confronting streets of the Indian capital, where most of the people you meet are acutely aware of the unfolding cricketing drama in Ranchi.

From passport stamping immigration officers to carbon dioxide sucking rickshaw warriors and your Kashmir textile salesmen, the fate of India’s innings in Ranchi was never far from relevant. It wouldn’t be right to paint a picture of an India where everybody cares for cricket though. Many millions don’t have the time for such a frivolity as they scrap to make a life in a difficult but amazing country.

Bullying the bully is a celebrated ambition though. Many Indians perceive Australia to be a bully. Their response is to be fight back with similar tactics. This is one of the most aggressive and extroverted Indian teams ever. Things have escalated since India beat England 4-0 and victory here against the Australian ‘bullies’ seems to mean so much more.

The bully the bully hashtag reveals a ferocious nationalism among young Indians. But misunderstandings lead to miscommunication. Worse still, deliberately manipulated images or stories can stimulate misguided controversy. On the flip-side, they suck interest inwards and the magnetic appeal of the series is increasing.

This is cricket between two proud nations. And there’s plenty of evidence of its popularity on India’s crazy streets.

Two Reasons India will spin webs around Aussie batsmen

Next week the first Test between kicks off in Pune. The contest will be dramatic. The war of words strident and the crowds big and loud. Can Australia compete?

India’s form is irresistible. Undefeated in 18 Tests. Most were at home and recent series provide clues. They beat Bangladesh 1-0 in a solitary Test and England 4-0 across five Tests.

The England series was compelling for Australian fans.

England posted 400 and 500+ totals on three occasions. In the first Test they had India on the back foot, but India held on for a narrow draw.

India then found rhythm and England were thrashed. Despite having five of the series’ top ten run scorers England were routed by superior batting.

Virat Kohli scored 655 runs at an average of 109. India passed 400 five times, their biggest total was declared at 7/759.

Meanwhile, Australia’s batting has been a widely publicized problem. Series losses to Sri Lanka and South Africa were papered over by resurgence against Pakistan. 

New faces adorned the top order. Handscomb and Renshaw provide hope.

But India away is next level. Difficult conditions, big crowds, lots of noise, falling wickets, men around the bat, blunt words and pressure to hold on.

Can Australia avoid past mistakes?

The common phrase ‘play your natural game’ is a pitfall.

It is bandied about too often. It’s a license to throw your wicket away in difficult circumstances. Chase a wide one in the hope you’ll get a few, before they get you.

Steve Smith has forecast change. Aggression is not the only tactic. Counter-attack has often failed. Australia’s batsmen need to be prepared to go to war in the dusty trenches. For hours, even days.

For Australia, the question isn’t how do we take 20 wickets?

But rather, how do we score 600 every time we bat.

Warner’s quick 100s need to be converted into bigger, longer scores. The top order must bat long and wear down bowlers down, who won’t be intimidated by one-off rapid scoring.

Ashwin and Jadeja need to be stopped.

They spun webs around England. Ashwin bowled 300 overs and took 28 wickets at 30. Jadeja bowled 290 overs and took 26 wickets at 25.

It was all about spin.

The leading fast-medium bowler on the England tour was India’s Shami. He took just 10 wickets. Each of England’s pace bowlers took fewer than eight across the series.

The point here is spin. It’s all about spin. And batting big. Really big.

Starc and Hazlewood will play a role. But Lyon, O’Keefe, Agar and Swepson will be important. But nothing is more important than runs and Australia will be tempted to cram as many batsmen into its XI as possible.

Enjoy the ride, this series will be awesome. Cricket Froth will be there for fourth Test in Dharamshala. So stay tuned for up-close analysis.

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Himachal Pradesh Cricket Stadium in Dharamshala. Situated at the foot of the Himalayas in northern India. Hosts the fourth Test between Australia and India in March 2017.