Steve Smith's mastery with the bat has placed Australia firmly in the box seat in the first ashes test, proving redemption may be possible.
Has Smith assured victory?
We won’t know until the end of the series just how important Steve Smith’s 144 was on the first day of the first Test at Edgbaston. What is not in dispute is that it was a singularly brilliant piece of individual sportsmanship.
Smith has been in England for some months playing high pressure matches (i.e. the World Cup) and one assumes is now used to his designated role as pantomime villain. Boos and catcalls from crowds around the country are his constant reminder of the ball tampering misdemeanour, or ‘Sandpapergate’, in Capetown in March 2018.
Maradona, another sporting genius who felt both the highs and lows
Last weekend I saw the wonderful new documentary Maradona. Here is an example if ever there was one of a sporting genius. A player who found angles where others couldn’t, threaded passes that created more space for lesser players and, who through the sheer force of his own personality and level of talent, could lift the teams he played in, to spectacular levels of achievement.
Without wishing to stretch the comparison between soccer and cricket too far, Maradona also found himself as a figure of derision for the English sports public when he blatantly used his hand to punch a ball into the goal during a World Cup quarter final in Mexico City in 1986. He still hasn’t been forgiven but, in his own mind, the use of his own ‘hand of god’ was more than justified by his legacy as the captain of a World Cup winning team.
In the grey areas
Perhaps that’s the dilemma every gifted, high-achieving sports person faces. All games, particularly cricket, are in a sense about deception and micro-thin margins. A player’s role is to ride the luck and seize whatever split second opportunities arise. All under the gaze of watchful officials and vigilant audiences. And making split-second decisions in a major sporting contest is something most of us will never have to do.
Somewhere in these grey areas sports people can not only get it wrong but get caught out (Smith, along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, will always be referred to as the Sandpaper three).
Own time and space
You can’t reach the top in sport without a shield of self-belief, although this doesn’t necessarily make you free of self-doubt. I always thought it would be interesting to see Steve Smith’s response to his humiliation early last year when he started playing again, as his weaknesses and frailties were laid bare. But out in the centre on the first day of the Ashes series, his mastery of the art of batting was also on full display. A place where he created his own time and space…
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