As the most prolific hitter in Test history among those with at least 100 innings to his name, Steve Smith has made a career out of aiming high.
While Smith likes to reward himself with a block of chocolate when he reaches a century, his renewed assertion on the eve of the Border Gavaskar Trophy series finale that he normally aims for 150 points rather than “just” 100 underscores the high standards he holds himself sets.
Consistent with his reputation as the game’s leading problem-solver, Smith has had to adjust his expectations in recent weeks in India, where volatile batting conditions have made him accept that a batsman who hits half his average per Test innings can turn a match .
But as Australia’s fill-in captain prepares for his departure from Test cricket in India, Smith believes the tough playing style required in the first three games of this series could give way to a more traditional Indian Test competition.
One that sees batsmen fill their boots early in the game and then, as assistant coach Dan Vettori put it this week, “hold on for their lives” as the surface deteriorates.
And if Smith’s prediction of a more truthful surface is correct (at least initially), it means he now has a golden opportunity to return to the regular program, bat in hand.
With a tour-high knock of 37 from five innings, Smith will be keen to avoid ending a Test series (having batted at least three times) without a 50-plus score for the first time in his career.
“This wicket is maybe a little bit different, I was just looking at it at the time,” Smith told reporters on Wednesday, having since clarified which of the two prepared surfaces Australia would face against India this week.
“Maybe it doesn’t rotate as much from the first ball or day one, but I think it will rotate as the game progresses. So there could be opportunities for bigger sums at this wicket.
“It looks like the four wickets we’ve seen so far may be the shallowest on day one.”
With the caveat that temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius could mean the selected surface break up quicker than previous tests in the series, which were held in milder climates, Smith sees the possibility that the Gujarat capital will be of a different kind altogether is held by Match.
And it’s not just because of the prospect of the two countries’ prime ministers (Narendra Modi, after whom the pitch is named, and Anthony Albanese) being carted around before the game in a ‘bat-mobile’, which has been test-driven on the vast playing surface at Wednesday afternoon.
In a series marked by devastatingly difficult batting conditions and masterful spin bowling, the batsmen of Australia and India have so far scored just three points from more than 80 and just a century (Rohit Sharma’s 120 in Nagpur).
Only bowling all-rounder Axar Patel, who has not been knocked out twice in four innings, has a series batting average above 42.
“On those wickets that we play on, the 70s and 80s win cricket games, as we’ve seen,” Smith said.
“This one might be a bit different, it might be someone needs to get a higher score and the par score could go from 200-250 to 450-500. I’m not sure, we will wait and see.
“It’s about playing what’s in front of you. But even fast 30s can change the momentum, as we saw from Sherya’s Iyer in the second inning of the last game…those little cameos can be important in low-scoring games.”
Just as Smith’s constant quest for improvement has fueled a statistically anomalous career, the right-hander also refuses to look too far into the future.
The prospect of winning the Test World Cup final and his first away win at Ashes later this year still fuels the 33-year-old, whose batting average could tip back over 60 with a score of 76 or more this week.
But he concedes that his chances of ticking off his ‘bucket list’ item of a Test series win in India, which were dashed during this current campaign when Australia were defeated in Delhi last month, now appear to have vanished.
Smith, who will be 37 when the Border Gavaskar Trophy is next staged on Indian soil in 2027, suggested a return to his fourth Test tour of the epicenter of modern cricket could be a bridge too far.
“I probably can’t see myself really coming back if I’m being realistic,” Smith said. “But we will wait and see, take it day by day – four years is a long time.
“…There’s a lot of dialogue (with selectors) just talking about what’s coming up, what’s important and all that stuff. You want your best players to be available primarily for the big tournaments or big series.
“The schedule is pretty busy these days so having guys in a good headspace to go out and perform is important. There is a lot of talk about that.”
Frontier-Gavaskar Qantas Tour of India 2023
February 9-13: India won by innings and 132 carries
17-21 February: India won by six wickets
1st-5th March: Australia won by nine wickets
March 9th to 13th: Fourth Test, Ahmedabad, 3pm AEDT
All matches will be broadcast live and exclusively on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports
Squad Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc) , Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson
Squad India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav , Suryakumar Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat
https://www.cricket.com.au/news/steve-smith-india-farewell-final-tour-australia-border-gavaskar-batting-standards-ahmedabad/2023-03-08 Ahmeda bat? Why Smith Could Make It Big in the Indian Farewell