CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde profiles Steve Smith.
Initially selected as a functional leg spinning all-rounder in 2010, an astonishing evolution has seen Steve Smith develop into one of the most prolific batsmen in Test history. Smith’s technique is very unconventional and ostensibly appears to be flawed, but in nearly half a decade as a frontline batsman no opposing team has exposed a major weakness. In 51 Tests since his return to the team in 2013 and his reinvention as a player Smith has averaged a phenomenal 63.10. The depth and versatility of Smith’s game is illustrated by the fact that since 2013 he averages at least 47 in every continent he has played in – 55 against spin and 70 against pace.
The strange nature of Smith’s technique is well illustrated by footwork data. Against pace Smith’s technique strikes an unusual balance of 44% front foot (global average 56%), 35% back foot (global average 39%), 10% moving in front (global average 2%) and 9% no movement (global average 7%). Unsurprisingly Smith is strong on the front and back foot, averaging more than 60 with both movements. However, more revealingly, he averages 67.00 when moving in front of the stumps (global average 28.35) and 32.60 when batting with no movement (global average 10.32). Traditionally it is assumed that batting is dependent on clear footwork forward or back but Smith’s averages with these two movements contradicts that. Connection data shows Smith to play false shots (missed, edged, hit pad) only 8% of the time (global average 14%) which suggests rather than necessarily relying on conventional footwork, Smith’s success is built on a foundation of supreme hand-eye coordination. The extent of Smith’s brilliance in this regard is well-illustrated by the Edged Heatmap comparison with Joe Root, who only plays false shots 11% of the time – which although excellent, is not as good as Smith.
Smith’s tendency to move across his stumps contributes to him hitting only 34% of balls to the off side (global average 45%) and hitting an unusually high 31% of his balls straight (global average 20%). The 35% of balls Smith’s hits on the on side is exactly in-line with the global average, however the 54% of his runs scored on the on side is higher (global average 50%).
Although he exhibits unusual footwork and scoring zone preferences Smith is a strong all round player off the front and back foot and on both sides of the pitch. His most conspicuous strength is his drive shot, with which he averages an astonishing 165.54 – the highest average with the shot of anyone to have played it in at least 25 Tests in the CricViz database.
Smith’s technique against spin is less peculiar than against pace but no less brilliant. Unlike against pace, Smith doesn’t shuffle across his crease in the same manner. Instead his footwork is more traditional, going forward 52% (global average 68%), back 28% (global average 23%) and most notably down the pitch 17% (global average 5%). With all of these foot movements Smith averages at least 50.
Although Smith has an exceptional record against both pace and spin a closer look at his statistics reveal a weakness against leg spin – averaging 39.77, and against left arm finger spin – averaging 37.05. Unfortunately for England they don’t have a left arm finger spinner in their Test squad and are highly unlikely to play their leg spinner Mason Crane, especially not at the start of the series.
Smith’s average against off spin of 84.61 is higher than against any other bowler-type and his average against Moeen Ali of 71.00 means that the responsibility to dislodge him lies largely with England’s pace bowlers. It should be noted though, given Smith’s proclivity to come down the pitch, that Moeen has had success against batsman when they’ve done so, boasting an average of 27.58 (off spin global average 37.11).
Stuart Broad has dismissed Smith six times – more than any other pace bowler and his average of 27.33 is the second lowest of any bowler to play three matches against him. Given the strength of Smith’s all round game, particularly against pace, this match-up offers England reason for encouragement. It is telling of the extent of Smith’s strength that against pace the only length against which he averages less than 40 is an in-between length and the only line against which he average less than 40 is in the channel outside off stump. This line and length is considered the ideal length to bowl as a pace bowler and shows that you need to bowl brilliantly to dismiss brilliance.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket