Is Steve Smith the best Test batsman after Don Bradman?

In the latest ICC Test Rankings for Batsmen, Australia’s Steve Smith has jumped up to the No.2 spot. Despite being banned for over a year, Smith, courtesy his performance in the ongoing Ashes 2019 series, has made up for all the lost time and regained 19 points to overtake Kane Williamson and is now only 9 points behind No.1 Virat Kohli.

With scores of 144, 142 and 92 in the three innings he has played in the Ashes 2019, Smith’s tally is 378 runs at a stunning average of 126.  In fact, the batsman now has 1065 runs in his last 7 Ashes Tests at an average of 133.12; freakishly close to Don Bradman’s record-breaking tally of 974 runs in the Ashes 1930 at an average of 139.14.

Unfortunately, because of the injury he faced in the 2nd Test, where he was hit on the back of his neck by a vicious Jofra Archer bouncer, Smith has been ruled out from the 3rd Test of the series at Headingley.

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It will be a big blow to Australia to lose their best Test batsman at such a crucial juncture.

Regardless, his numbers should make us marvel at the phenomenon called Steve Smith. 2018 was a nightmare for the batsman after he was found guilty in the ball-tampering saga and banned for a year from international cricket. Smith has admitted that during that phase he even considered retirement from the game.

However, Smith has returned to the Test arena and how. He has shown the world he is a master of the Test format and has left his compatriots far behind. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Smith is the best Test batsman not just of this era but perhaps the best one the world has seen after the great Sir Donald Bradman.

Smith’s numbers are freakish – 6577 runs in 66 Test at an astounding average of 63.94 with 25 hundreds and 25 fifties. There is no current batsman who is even close to Smith in terms of batting average and no one else has breached the number 60 from the current era. In fact, only one other batsman in history other than Bradman (who averaged an extraordinary 99.94 in his career) and Smith, has been able to maintain the coveted Test average of 60 after a minimum of 50 Tests – England’s Herbert Sutcliffe who averaged 60.73 after 54 Tests.

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Thus, in the context of history alone, these are already phenomenal numbers by Smith. There is no telling where Smith will eventually end up or whether these numbers will dwindle or rise. But what he has achieved so far is no less than incredible.

Steve Smith is not the most aesthetically pleasing batsman. He is ungainly and the way he leaves the ball at times feels bizarre. His constant shuffle to the off-side makes him appear a perfect candidate for LBW in Test cricket. Bowlers try. But they fail miserably as Smith keeps amassing runs in his own unusual style.

So is Steve Smith then the best Test batsman world cricket has seen after Don Bradman? Perhaps, yes. If Smith were to retire today, his numbers would certainly suggest so. But this beast of a batsman is certainly not done yet. He is hungrier than ever. And it feels like by the time he is done, he would have reached much closer to Bradman than any other man in history has.

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