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WTC FINAL 2023

Steve Smith on his way to yet another century in Test cricket. © Getty

Steve Smith has always been fussy with the specifics of his game. Approaching 9000 Test runs at an average close to 60, you’d think that Smith has his game working like clockwork. However, for the 34-year-old, reinvention is the only constant.

Earlier this year, there was a noticeable change in Smith’s trigger movements at the crease, or rather the lack of it. The exaggerated shuffle across was put in the backburner and he revealed how it was a conscious decision which enabled him to access the off-side a lot more frequently. Come the WTC final, that patented shuffle and trigger were back in business, and it was no accident.

“I quite like it for English conditions and the way the ball bounces over here. It obviously worked when I was here last time,” explained Smith at the press conference after the second day’s play at The Oval where he scored his 31st Test hundred. “And yeah, just the positions I get myself into, it doesn’t mean I’m going to do it all the time. I may revert back to old styles at certain periods when I feel it’s necessary, but on this surface and with the bowlers I was coming up against, I felt that was the right way forward.”

“Doesn’t take long to get back. It’s probably my more natural sort of movement, I suppose. So, no, it didn’t take very long. I actually batted the other way in my first two county games I played here and then started playing that way in the third game because I wasn’t quite happy with the positions I was getting into. So yeah, it didn’t take long. One hit out in the middle and I was fine.”

Smith’s 285-run stand with Travis Head was the cornerstone of Australia’s big first innings effort as the former neatly played second fiddle to his partner’s astonishing counterattack. The day started with Smith on 95 and it didn’t take long for him to get to his accustomed three-figure mark, stroking Mohammed Siraj for consecutive fours to get to his 31st Test century. Chuffed as he was about his personal milestone, Smith was all praise for Head’s masterclass.

“I think when I first started this morning I couldn’t ask for anything more than two half volleys on my pad to get me going. That was nice to get over that milestone. But, no, I was proud of the way I played. I thought I applied myself nicely. Left well yesterday morning. Hit the balls in my area and yeah it was pretty solid in defense. So yeah, felt good out there.”

“Obviously a really good partnership with Trav who batted beautifully in that middle session yesterday. I thought the way he took the game on, put the pressure back on their bowlers, got them off their lengths, which I think helped me at the other end as well. Yeah, set us up for a nice innings.”

In hindsight, Head’s innings was a template that India missed from their batters as the Australian seamers made better use of a typical surface at The Oval. Unlike their counterparts, the Aussie quicks were relentless in their lengths and were also spot on in terms of their lines, bringing the stumps into play a lot more frequently. It also helped Pat Cummins’ men that they had naturally taller bowlers to cause distress to the batters.

While it is right up there among the better batting surfaces in England, The Oval has had enough in it for the bowlers, particularly those who relish extra bounce and pace off the pitch. The track did start a fraction slow on day one but on the second day with enough sun beating down, it quickened up considerably and that meant that the conditions were right up the ally of the Australian pacers. That said, they still had to stick to the basics and make the most of the variable bounce the pitch has offered through the length of the game.

“The length at off stump I think is important. We’ve obviously seen a bit of variable bounce and some seam movement. So if we’re challenging the top of the stumps as much as possible, I think that’s the quickest way home. You can certainly get the outside edge from there if it seams away and bounces or takes off, which a couple have. And then pads and stumps are in play with the ones that shoot low or seam back. So it’s about as simple as we need to keep it, I think.

“I think it’s just putting the ball in the right area more often than not. Owning that sort of, I think it’s probably five and a half to seven meter length. Top of the stumps, there’s enough natural variation there in terms of up and down. Obviously Virat [Kohli] got a very difficult one, he couldn’t really do much there to be fair and if you’re hitting those areas consistently it’s quite challenging.”

With enough movement on offer and the surface steadily showing signs of variable bounce, Australia’s score of 469 looks all the more massive now, particularly with India still 119 runs adrift of avoiding the follow-on. Apart from Smith and Head, no other batter has crossed fifty so far in the match although a few batters did get close to the milestone. Smith admitted that the track wasn’t straightforward as The Oval generally but had a simple solution to the problem.

“I think just to stay in the moment. I think we’ve all had a few that have either shot low or bounced a little bit more. It’s basically just forgetting what happened the ball before and playing the next ball and if you get out to one of those ones then so be it but yeah just trying to stay in the moment as much as possible – assume that nothing’s happening and just play sort of each ball as it comes I think that was the most important thing and I thought I did it pretty well.”

© Cricbuzz

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