For so long, coaches have been telling us how important a batsman’s footwork is to this handcraft (a clumsy word, but you got the idea) has been neglected.
Steve Smith proclaimed « I found my hands » before taking on India for two consecutive ODI centuries, bringing that element back into the cricket conversation. But more of that later.
At 31 years old Smith (test average: 62. 84, ODI average: 43. 71) is statistically the biggest batsman after Don Bradman (with at least 15 tests) and seems poised to stamp his authority on another series. India’s fate in Australia will depend on how well they contradict its methods. The only time they won a test series there was when Smith pronounced a ban on ball manipulation.
Smith is not the best example of a batsman who chooses effectiveness over firm orthodoxy, but rather one who follows the textbook where it matters. Yes, he fidgets, he squirms, he spins, but that’s not what makes bowler the distraction. He’s in the right place at the right time and it doesn’t matter what happens before he gets there.
Watch him closely. He could bring his club down the gutter (or even the point), but he presents the ball with a straight club after turning it in a semicircle. The essence of stroke art is the ability to convert silence into movement; You can do it the traditional way, by staying still until you’ve judged length, or the Smith way, by giving the movement a head start – the momentum that triggers it.
The initial back and forth motion as the bowler approaches is sometimes excessive, ending outside the off-stump and even exposing the leg stump. However, if the bowler aims at the unprotected stump, the forefoot is planted so that it prevents the bowler from seeing it and gives himself room to slide the ball over the side of the leg. An outfield player is sometimes put on leg slips, mostly in the hope of a miracle.
When the bat hits the ball, Smith’s head is in line and, most importantly, perfectly still.
For all of his obvious cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof technique where it counts, Smith’s eyelash isn’t on the coaching manual. Sachin Tendulkar called it a « complicated technique with an extremely organized mindset, » but the complications lie in the stroke, not the time of play.
Yes, Smith is playing away from his body; but he makes up for it by the ability to hit through the line. The bat becomes an extension of his hands. You imagine he can’t play the cover drive with that right grip, but he fools you by twisting his shoulder around while pulling his right elbow in. Again, the momentum does the trick. The wrists help place the ball between field players.
« The gift of hands » was also a Virender Sehwag specialty. another player who didn’t make too much of a fuss about where his feet were in relation to the club swing. And another player who was even in the line game. One day cricket has made Sehwag a great test player. In Smith’s case, it’s the other way round – test cricket seems like the springboard to a one-day championship.
« All your energy is in your hands, » said a baseball coach. Most cricket coaches tend to underestimate the importance of the hands and instead focus on the movement of the feet.
The fact that it took even a batsman of Smith’s caliber four months to “find his hands” is evidence of the importance of self-awareness in sport. Most batsmen know they are in the groove when their favorite strokes begin to roll out easily. Smith knew he was back on track when his off-drive – his rarest shot – worked well in practice.
« You shouldn’t go out if the ball doesn’t hit the stumps. « That’s Smith’s mantra. So confident is his confidence that once he changed his technique in the middle of a test inning and worked the back and forth motion to his satisfaction.
What must be worrying India is that the last time Smith talked about finding his hands prior to the 2017-18 Ashes series, he aggregated 687 with an average of 137. In the Ashes series that followed, he made 774 in four tests.
The Indian camp has said bold things about fast bowlers aiming at Smith’s rib cage. The New Zealand left-hand drive Neil Wagner had so worried him a year ago in the series. It will be interesting to see if India’s left poor T. . Natarajan is chosen to try the Wagner method. He’s not on the original testing team, but it might be worth taking a chance.
It is possible that when Smith « found his hands » he meant it metaphorically. But it’s also literally true. It looks too comfortable for Indian bowlers to feel the same way.
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Steve Smith, Australian men’s cricket team, India, test cricket, One Day International
World News – AU – Steve Smith finds his hands – India’s fortune is in them
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