The young leg spinner about to play his 100th test… as this era’s greatest batsman

Thirteen years is quite a long time in any aspect of life, but especially in sports.

Just think: Over the last thirteen years we’ve seen three Summer Olympic Games, four FIFA Football World Cups, and three ICC Cricket World Cups, plus so many different chapters in sporting folklore being written or rewritten.

This period since 2010 has also played host to one of the most remarkable and polarising stories in the history of the sport of cricket: the test career of the master that is Steven Smith.

Let me rewind. It’s July 13th, 2010, and Australia is playing Pakistan in a test match at a neutral venue, the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground in England. A 21-year-old kid from Kogarah is making his debut in the test arena.

He is chosen as a leg spinner and after not being required to bowl in the first innings, he takes a solid 3/51 in the second to help Australia win the match by 150 runs.

Australia's Steve Smith celebrates reaching his century during day two of the second Ashes test match at Lord's, London. Picture date: Thursday June 29, 2023. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Steve Smith celebrates a Lord’s century. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

He would make a very respectable 77 with the bat in the next test at number nine, but then struggle for a couple of years to maintain a permanent spot in the test team.

Eventually he would take another chance in the 2013 Ashes, where after being picked as a first choice batsman, Smith would score his maiden test century in the final test at the Oval and finish with 345 runs at 38.33 throughout the five match series.

This series was just what Smith needed, as it seemed to give him the confidence to perform in any country against any bowling attack in the most difficult of conditions.

After that series, he would score two hundreds in the return Ashes at home that summer, then go on a scoring spree.

He would average over seventy in every year from 2014–2017, and after assuming the full time captaincy of the Australian team in late 2015 after the retirement of the polarising Michael Clarke, he would score hundreds relatively everywhere.

From South Africa to the West Indies, to England again, to Sri Lanka, and then, in the toughest conditions of all, to India in 2017, he would perform consistently. This made him the most prized wicket in that period as he held the number one test batting ranking for most of 2016–2017.

The 2017 Border-Gavaskar Trophy would become arguably Smith’s greatest series, as he would average 71 and score three hundreds, with the next best Australian, Matt Renshaw averaging 29 and scoring zero centuries.

His unorthodox style, unusual and quite frustrating tics and routines and ability to focus and problem solve are what would made him the most prized wicket in this period.

Then, we know what will unfortunately happen in early 2018.

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates after reaching his century during day three of the First Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 25, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Steve Smith’s century at the Gabba in 2017. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The then Australian Test Captain, along with vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft, would be suspended for eighteen months for taking part in the Cape Town ball tampering scandal.

Many, including former Australian captain Ian Chappell, thought Smith wouldn’t return to the sport at a high level, and the percentage that did would not have imagined what would transpire in his first series back in 2019 at the Ashes.

Smith knew the barrage of abuse to follow him in England would be horrific, and the conditions he and the Aussies would have to play through were nothing short of a nightmare.

Nonetheless, he would complete his redemption story and rewrite the record books, producing the most remarkable series in the past century averaging 110, scoring two hundreds, a double hundred, and four fifties.

The series included many significant innings, but none more so than the first innings ton (which he rates as his best) in the first test at Edgbaston, where he would again save his side by making 144 to carry Australia from a perilous 8-122 to 284 all out.

This century, followed by another in the second innings (his 24th and 25th test hundreds), would be the catalyst for Australia’s first test victory.

Smith had a lean period without scoring a century from late 2019 to early 2021, but has seemingly reinvented himself and has since scored five centuries since the start of 2022.

Fast forward to 2023 and after his 32nd test hundred in his 99th test at Lord’s, the ground where he made his debut, in great news to Australian fans, the Kogarah local doesn’t look like he is slowing down.

A career that started with a relative goal to replace the late great Shane Warne and become Australia’s long-term spinner, instead has replaced and surpassed batting greats the likes of Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey in an inconceivable turn of events.

No matter if you love him for his unique batting style and relentless ability to score, or hate him for his 2018 indiscretions, he’s still around and still scoring runs for Australia and you have to respect his tenacity and competitive nature.

Steve Smith

Steve Smith. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Smith enters his 100th test with the highest average anyone has ever had at this period of their careers at 59.56 and scoring a 33rd hundred will be right at the top of his mind.

According to this writer, and most of the cricketing world, he is the greatest test batsman of the modern era and to be able to watch his competition with fellow greats Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson is something we have been and continue to be, blessed to watch.

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