Sydney: Steve Smith has established himself as the world’s premier Test batsman but serious lapses of judgement have tarnished his achievements on the field.
The hyperactive and unorthodox right-hander has drawn regular comparisons with the legendary Donald Bradman as his batting has gone from strength to strength.
But Smith has also been slammed as a cheat after he owned up to a ball-tampering conspiracy in South Africa, prompting a clamour for him to be stripped of the Australian captaincy.
Originally selected as a leg spinner who batted down the order, Smith developed his unusual technique to the extent that he was unbreakable at times during the recent Ashes series against England.
Smith hit a career-best 239 in the series-clinching third Test in Perth, passing 1,000 Test runs for 2017 along the way — the fourth year in a row he has reached the milestone.
Accolades poured in for the 28-year-old, who sits top of the Test rankings and whose batting has seemed unburdened by the demands of captaincy.
Yet critics will point to flashes of petulance and poor decision-making by Smith, who succeeded Michael Clarke as full-time Test skipper in 2015, when he was just 26.
Even before Saturday’s stunning ball-tampering revelation, Smith was badly caught out a year ago during the tour of India.
Smith frankly admitted to a “brain fade” after he looked up at the Bangalore players’ balcony while deciding whether to review an umpire’s decision, apparently hoping for guidance.
The rules of the game stipulate that a player cannot seek off-field guidance in such circumstances.
Smith also has a history of on-field flare-ups, including a fine for dissent in the 2016 Christchurch Test and hostile exchanges with bowlers James Anderson and Kagiso Rabada.
– Crossing ‘the line’ –
“I need to be better as a leader. For me it’s about trying to learn from my mistakes and improve,” Smith said after his fine in New Zealand.
But with vice-captain David Warner also fined for an ugly confrontation with Quinton de Kock during the current series, some see a pattern of bad behaviour in Smith’s team.
“I’ve started to become more and more offended by the arrogance of some of the players in the way they behave,” Jim Maxwell, senior cricket commentator for Australia’s ABC, told New Zealand’s Radio Sport.
Born in Sydney in 1989, Smith made his first-class debut for New South Wales in 2008, graduating to the Test team as frontline spinner and number eight batsman two years later.
He was dropped during the 2010-2011 Ashes but reappeared as a batting force when he returned to the Test team in 2013, scoring 92 against India in Mohali.
Smith scored his maiden Test century with 138 not out against England at The Oval, and then starred in Australia’s 5-0 home Ashes whitewash with tons in Perth and Sydney.
Smith became Australia’s captain-in-waiting when, while filling in for injured skipper Clarke on the 2014-2015 tour of India, he scored centuries in all four Tests.
Smith has long prided himself in what he calls Australia’s “hard, aggressive cricket” without crossing an indefinable “line”.
“There’s a line. We’ll head-butt the line but we won’t go over it,” spinner Nathan Lyon said ahead of the Ashes series.
However, with the clamour growing for Smith to be sacked, perhaps the line has finally been crossed.