Steve Smith’s spectacular Test comeback in Birmingham has cemented his status in the eyes of many as the best since Bradman.
Steve Smith’s spectacular Test comeback in Birmingham has cemented his status in the eyes of many as the best since Bradman.

The making of batting genius Steve Smith

The exotic potion of a World War II fighter pilot, a tireless father, a tennis racquet and Mark Waugh have combined to create one of the greatest batting geniuses of all time.

Steve Smith's spectacular Test comeback in Birmingham has cemented his status in the eyes of many as the best since Bradman.

But the fact he is making cricket history with a technique that's perceived as perhaps the most unusual the game has ever seen makes Smith's rise, fall and resurrection all the more extraordinary.

Bradman penned the definitive manual, 'The Art of Cricket', but Smith's legacy might be inspiring coaches to rip up every batting textbook ever written.

The legendary all-rounder and Air Force Pilot Keith Miller famously once said, "Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not."

Smith's grandfather, Walter, was a British fighter pilot in World War II and perhaps there's also a shade of Miller about Australia's modern-day Bradman.

 

The English Daily Telegraph declares Steve Smith the new Bradman after second Ashes century.
The English Daily Telegraph declares Steve Smith the new Bradman after second Ashes century.

 

"(Walter) had outstanding reflexes and was a useful golfer and cricketer," Smith said of his grandfather in his book, The Journey.

Bradman's greatness was forged by the hours he spent hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump off the family water tank.

By the time Smith was 12, he was spending up to 18 hours a week either playing or practicing in the backyard or nets with his father Peter.

Smith played tennis as a junior and says he still feels like he's loading up for a big forehand when he clears his front leg to hit down the ground. He sees Mark Waugh in the way he bats too - the man who he studied as his cricketing hero.

 

Steve Smith was originally selected as a specialist bowler. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Steve Smith was originally selected as a specialist bowler. Picture: Gregg Porteous

 

Incredibly, he was originally picked to play Test cricket in his teens as a legspinner, although this was more due to selectors' desperation to urgently inject a freak talent into the team any way they could.

According to Smith, his entire career boils down to the volume of practice he has put in and an ability to 'adapt' to any situation - a mental skill honed by the quirky and challenging games set for him by his father.

"You always did it at a level that was going to help him to grow in what he was doing," Peter Smith told The Daily Telegraph.

"There was no point just doing it for the sake of bowling. He didn't like that anyway. He always wanted to be challenged. So you always did it at that point where it was a challenge but it wasn't excessive."

 

 

At the end of every net session, Smith would be set the same equation to his father's bowling: score 20 off the last 12 balls.

In the backyard, the threat of being out if he hit into his mother's flowerbed helped mould his soft hands for playing spin. Indoor cricket instilled in him his confidence to flick balls off his pads at will, to the point where he now relishes bowlers targeting his stumps.

Smith cites moments in his childhood where he came back from 0-4 against a bigger, older and more powerful opponent to win a tennis match based on mental smarts alone. And a junior rep cricket match where he withstood 40 degree temperatures to win a game, only to break down and weep uncontrollably due to the exhaustion.

 

Schoolboy Steve Smith is all smiles after playing for the NSW Combined High Schools.
Schoolboy Steve Smith is all smiles after playing for the NSW Combined High Schools.

 

Moments like Phil Jaques telling him "don't cover drive before lunch" during a grade game for Sutherland, and Australian batting coach Michael di Venuto reassuring him "you're not out of form, just out of runs", have stayed with him on his journey.

"He's worked out what works for him," says Jaques, a talented Test batsman in his own right who was also one of Smith's first mentors.

"Technique is about being able to hit the ball where you want to be able to hit it."

 

Steve Smith (left) is supported by his father Peter during a press conference after he was stood down as Australian Captain and suspended for twelve months following his involvement in the ball tampering incident in South Africa. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito
Steve Smith (left) is supported by his father Peter during a press conference after he was stood down as Australian Captain and suspended for twelve months following his involvement in the ball tampering incident in South Africa. Picture: AAP Image/Brendan Esposito

 

But for all the advice he has received in his meteoric rise, Smith is ultimately self-made.

"I use coaches more as another set of eyes rather than for advice or criticism," he writes in his book.

"I know what I'm doing."

As far as Smith is concerned, he has a good technique.

"If you leave the fidgeting out of it then I actually think my technique is a pretty simple affair," he writes.

"Critics might think there are a lot of moving parts … but if you analyse the positions I get into when I actually make contact with the ball, I would argue I'm a pretty orthodox player."

And who could argue?

 

 

Steve Smith as a baby being held by grandfather Walter. Picture supplied
Steve Smith as a baby being held by grandfather Walter. Picture supplied
News Corp Australia


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