Tour of England in Australia – Jarrod Kimber

Steven Smith hooked Mark Wood for six. It was a beautiful shot, but the feeling it gave was more of a surprise. That’s not how Smith has been playing short ball lately.

Even with just one true, fully functioning fast pitcher – who hasn’t played every game – England fired Smith with three backs in this series. Wood had it twice and Ollie Robinson took him to Adelaide.

Smith has struggled with the spin a bit more lately, and the length of the ball has troubled him as well. But nothing changed more than the way he handled bullets above the waist like it wasn’t a big deal. Now it takes it all the time.

It wasn’t always like that. There was a five-year span starting in September 2014 where Smith averaged 96.2 against bowling (with a minimum of 1,000 runs during that time). The second best was Kane Williamson, with an average of 55.8.

Smith was almost double his closest contemporary. He’s transformed from a part-time legpinner who Ricky Ponting didn’t think could be a top-six player, into the modern greatest hitter, and not even at all; the races he scored were amazing. Do a hundred every 2.1 Tests. His overall average during this period was 78.7. Eight scores out of 150. It was all crazy.

As of September 2019, Smith has averaged 40 in tests, which lately hasn’t been that great. It’s only terrible for him because he was so much better than anyone else. And in that record-breaking five-year period, he also missed a year because of Sandpapergate.

Smith came back from that and never missed a beat, allowing the Hawks of Redemption to cry out over it all. And then Jofra Archer hit him in the neck, and things changed (although even before Archer hit him, Smith had gone out with the short ball twice in the 2019 World Cup).

Around the middle of 2017, batters around the world suddenly stopped bowling as well as they had. Marnus Labuschagne changed Australia’s hitting order. Smith’s elbow became a concern. And he got old. And teams all over the world have started playing with a different line from him.

It was the line that was first noticeable. Smith scored 144, 142, 92, 211, 80 and then 20 at the 2019 Ashes. It was during the last test at the Oval that it looked like England had played a lot straighter with him. No more very large bales; now they were bowling on his stumps or his body. Chris Woakes had him lbw in the first innings and Broad got him caught in the ravine of the legs in the next.

This test started on September 12, 2019.

During that wonderful period of five years ago, 20% of the pace deliveries Smith faced were very wide outside the stump, the idea being to keep the ball away from its force and turn it to the side. legs. From this oval test, it was 7%.

The deposit did not come from the house either. All but one of the tests since September 2019 took place at home; in that heyday he was averaging 96 at home and since then it’s 39.

Smith was not in perfect health during this period. In 2019, he underwent what in baseball is called Tommy John surgery on the ligaments in his elbow. The problem erupted again ahead of last year’s T20 World Cup. These are the years when he struggled a little more.

He also just got along. One of the most common thoughts was that Smith would stop scoring points because his reflexes would someday go away. He’s 32 now, so it looks like this is the age he could catch up with him. Unless that were to happen, you’d assume we’d see a bunch of wickets that are upset and lbw as it moves over stumps and misses them. That’s not where his layoffs come from. It is from balls to the back lengthwise.

This brings us back to the Archer bouncer. Because Smith has struggled with shorter balls since that shot.

He has now been sacked by backshots and bouncers 10 times since September 2019 (including that test at the Oval) in 22 innings. In his golden race, he was dismissed 10 times by similar deliveries, but by 77 strokes. Prior to that, against those deliveries, he was averaging 117, scoring at 3.67 points over. Since then it has been 23.7 to 2.3.

Four of those layoffs involve Neil Wagner, although that in itself isn’t interesting, as Wagner is short for everyone. At the 2019 World Cup, before Archer hit, New Zealand sent Smith off with a short ball and a leg catcher. The West Indies also had it with a bouncer. It’s possible that Archer hitting Smith was actually part of an existing problem, not the cause itself.

Another factor often mentioned is that Smith has been bored since Labuschagne moved to No.3. This is called the “Twiddling the Thumbs” theory: indeed, Smith got so bored watching Labuschagne and David Warner beat for a long time that he struggles when he goes out to bat. ESPNcricinfo’s stats team took an interest in that – Smith entered the wicket with a median score of 52 for his run to glory, and it has been 100 since. However, he also beat a little more at three in the glory years, despite being a No.4 Specialist more often than not.

It might be better to answer really by looking at his failures. After the 2019 Ashes, he arrived in the crease eight times with a team score above 100. In three of those innings, he passed 50. He entered the crease six times when the score was not more than 50. In only one of these rounds he passed 50. If there is a pattern here, I don’t see it.

And while Warner had a good average recently, he’s only passed the 50 mark on five occasions since that oval test. Australia used three different non-Warner forerunners. So there were plenty of opportunities for Smith to get in early if that was a problem.

There is always an eagerness to call the end for the grown-ups. But the fact that Smith can still hook Wood for six tells you he’s not done. An average of 40 at the moment is still pretty good. It’s just not good for Smith.

From there, you’ll have to assert that he’s not failing because he’s twiddling his thumbs. He arrives at times similar to before, often making departures or even 50s and then being fired.

But something else has changed in cricket recently. Smith isn’t the only person struggling with bowling. Over the past four years, the world batting average against bowling is 26.7; in the previous four years it was 32.02. It’s a huge drop.

This does not explain Smith’s form. In fact, it seems there is nothing. Balls above his waist are clearly a problem, but he struggles a length and isn’t as dominant against the spin as he once was. Labuschagne and Warner may annoy him on occasion, but there is no diagram suggesting a real problem. If his reflexes are a problem, it’s weird that he doesn’t get returned when the ball is straight and full and crosses the line. His elbow is probably going to be a lifelong problem. And yes, it was tough going up against the rapids, but not enough to make him nearly two-thirds worse against that.

There is always an eagerness to call the end for the grown-ups. But the fact that Smith can still hook Wood for six tells you he’s not done. An average of 40 at the moment is still pretty good. It’s just not good for Smith.

It would be very easy to doubt that Smith could recover that old form. But, everyone doubted that he would ever be one of the best test drummers, and for a long time he was by far the best. If anyone can find a solution, it’s probably him.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

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