It is not certain Steve Smith will ever earn a name for artistic batting. But when it comes to workmanship at the batting crease he has few equals. The textbooks taught us that the back and across movement is best designed for the most effective batting. There have been front-foot preference greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards and so there never was a hard and fast rule. What Smith has achieved in the course of his career, and more recently in his phenomenal success in the defence of the Ashes, is to place effectiveness over style and simply make tons and tons of runs.
For want of a better term we could call this exaggerated back and across movements as Smithsonian, a famous name in human knowledge and science which somehow translates into the craft of batting that the Australian has put together. For Smith's batting is no art although fans might be inclined to say that his bat movement towards the onside after letting a ball go beyond the off peg is artistic. The ballet and bharatanatyam dancers would, however, take offence if we termed the movement so. Truth to tell, Smith has made an art of his peculiar craftsmanship.
Smith has proved the immovable object against the otherwise irresistible force of England bowling, spearheaded by the fluid attacking instincts of Jofra Archer and the technically accomplished Stuart Broad who knows all the angles there can be in the matter of bowling at a batsman. A number of batsmen from both sides have made runs like Smith has to dominate historic Ashes series. None could, however, have bolstered it like a one-man army that Smith has done while everyone else except his concussion substitute of Dutch descent with the exotic name of Labuschange has proved most vulnerable, including David Warner of whom far more would have been expected.
There is still a Test to go and the series is up for grabs for an Australian team led by the gentlemanly Tim Paine. Who would have imagined that this pale imitation of an aggressive, sledging Australian captain would be in this position on the eve of the final Test in a see-sawing series that produced one of the greatest Test innings to change its course in just the previous Test? It appeared that along with the lid on an infinite capacity to aggravate tensions on a cricket field, the Aussie team had also given up its ability to act calmly in the face of a contest.
The number of lines fluffed by the team in catching, running batsmen out and in judging when to take DRS calls was quite unfunny at Headingley. It appeared that history seemed so ordained to repeat itself that the Aussies had forgotten their cricket. A week to think and recover from that impossible ending at Leeds seemed to have done a world of good. But, of course, the one difference was that Smith was back and ready to torment England again while leaving the memory of his concussion far behind. The background to this double century of a MRI scan determining Smith’s availability makes it one of the great sagas in courage.
Having run out of methods to get at Smith, the media seemed to have taken on his imitation act during the celebrations at Old Trafford. Trevor Bayliss shot it down Donald Trump-like with an acerbic cry of “Fake news”. That effectively killed the controversy with one good shot from an Aussie who was in the wrong dressing room in Manchester. But to imagine a series involving the Aussies would be this non-controversial as to need the crutch of Jack Leach's spectacles to create fuss.
The Oval has a reputation for providing the stage for a great finale to many an Ashes and other series. The surface can be good for spinners too late in the match and who knows if Labuschange would bring off another surprise or two pitching his leg breaks in the rough. But the contest will always be that of the England quicks against Smith and his concussion sub which would finally settle the series one way or the other. And what a top class series this has been with all the aggro restricted to spaces outside the arena. Otherwise, it has all been batsman Smith busy at work in the smithy like a man possessed or a Ben Stokes batting out of his skin to achieve a mission impossible....