By: Chinmay Vaidya
Many casual cricket fans won't remember Steve Smith's early playing days. I however, as many Australia fans and die-hard cricket fans, do remember. Smith has come a long way from his early matches as a bowling all-rounder.
Yes, you read that right. Steve Smith used to be a bowling all-rounder for Australia. So how did this guy transform from a young legspinner into one of the best top-order batsmen in the world?
Obviously, it took a lot of patience on Smith's part. While he honed his batting skills, legends like Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke held the No. 3 spot down. Even George Bailey got his chances at the position. During a time of confusion about the lineup, the Australians even experimented with Mitchell Marsh and Adam Voges at the spot. But when Smith eventually needed a bigger role, he got the most coveted position in Australia's lineup.
It also took a lot of work from Smith. Players don't just suddenly flip a switch and become good at something they weren't known for, especially on the international level. Smith was an average bowler at best globally. As a batsman, he's one of the four or five best in the world. Let's dive into the numbers illustrating this amazing transformation of one of Australia's best players.
In the first four years of his career, Smith was primarily a bowler. He would often bat at No. 6 as a traditional all-rounder, but he was in the team to make a difference with the ball. Here's his batting and bowling stats from his first four years of ODI cricket.
Steve Smith Statistics (age 20-24)
Batting: 399 runs, 17.35 average, 0 100s, 0 50s
Bowling: 149.5 overs, 22 wickets, 5.2 economy, 35.45 average
So when exactly did Smith flex his batting chops?
The first sign that a change in his playing role was coming happened in August 2014. Australia was involved in a triangular series with South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the latter playing hosts. Smith batted at No. 3 twice in this series, scoring 36 and 10. Not exactly a performance worthy of anointing him at the de facto option at the position, but it was a start. The confirmation happened in Australia's next ODI series.
Smith scored a century in Australia's opening ODI against Pakistan at Sharjah. He faltered in the next match, but went on to make 77 in the third and final ODI of the series. In that three-game set, Smith poured in 190 runs and cemented himself as a true batsman. In Australia's tour of South Africa, Smith scored 254 runs as a middle-order batsman in four matches. His century and two 50s confirmed his batting chops and Australia reacted accordingly. Smith was set as the No. 3 batsman in a Tri-Series with India and England in Australia ahead of the 2015 World Cup. He scored an unbeaten 102 and 40 in two matches against England, giving him a platform to build on for the World Cup.
In the 2015 World Cup, Smith shined. He churned out 402 runs in seven innings with one century and four half-centuries. His 105 in the semifinal against defending champions India was the highlight of the tournament. Smith followed that up with 56 not out to help Australia capture its fifth World Cup title. The transformation was complete with a trophy as icing on the cake.
Here's how Smith has performed with bat and ball after his first four years in one-day cricket. In case you were wondering, he basically doesn't bowl anymore.
Steve Smith (age 25 - present)
Batting: 3,032 runs, 42.70 average, 8 100s, 19 50s
Bowling: 24.3 overs, 5 wickets, 6.16 economy, 30.20 average
Heading into the 2019 World Cup, there's no confusion about Smith's role in the team. This is his first major international competition since the ball-tampering scandal and his IPL campaign left a lot to be desired.
There's questions whether Smith's best days have passed. It'll be up to the Aussie star to prove the doubters wrong in England. He's done it once in his career by switching from ball to bat. This time, it'll be about showing why he's still one of the best batsmen in the world.
Note: All statistics as of May 25, 2019