Steven Smith: The nuts and bolts of a one-of-a-kind batsman

Steven Smith, the Don of the 2019 Ashes Getty Images

Steven Smith's unorthodox technique has confounded viewers worldwide, but its effectiveness is undoubted: he averages 62.84 after 73 Tests, and he's well on his way to becoming an all-time great. So how does he do it? Speaking to the Cricketer, the Australia batsman explained how he arrived at his current technique and why it works for him.

Hitting the ball where there are no fielders

"I remember Trent Woodhill, who I worked with for a few years when I was like 16 and I think I had a hit with him, I reckon when I was 20-21 as well. I remember him saying to me… he was throwing me balls and I hit a ball [on] off stump straight down the ground. He's like why don't you just hit that through the leg side, and I was like, I don't know, that's kind of textbook, almost, to hit a ball on off stump kind of straight down the ground; why do I hit it to the leg side? I remember him saying something like, why don't you just hit it where the fielder isn't, essentially, you know you've got both options: you can hit the ball straight or you can hit it to where the fielder isn't, and that's batting, isn't it? You're trying to hit the gaps and batting is about scoring runs so why play a ball that's on middle stump to mid-on and hit it straight to mid-on, why don't you whip it through midwicket for four? So it was finding the sort of balance."

From bat-down to bat-up

"At that stage I was also working a lot on my defence. That was really important to me, knowing where my off stump was, leaving the ball. I used to have a bit of a different set-up. I used to tap my bat just before the bowler bowled the ball and at that stage I think my head was kind of dropping, so my eyes weren't level, my balance wasn't quite right. So I started to just hold the bat up. Everything just sort of felt a lot better. I had my eyes level and everything felt a lot more stable at the crease."

The changing of the guard

"I was batting on middle stump at that stage like I'd done pretty much for my whole career. It wasn't until I got another opportunity playing for Australia, I played the whole Ashes over in England [in 2013] where I just batted on middle stump and played the way I had been playing, and then we came back home for the Ashes series here [in 2013-14] and played the same way the first two Tests. And then got to the WACA and I remember Stokesy [Ben Stokes] and Broady [Stuart Broad] in particular were bowling a fair bit back of a length and quite short at me, and I just wasn't getting myself in a good position. So I just randomly decided I was going to take middle-and-leg-stump [guard] and I was just going to have a little shuffle and put some weight on my back foot, and get myself in a better position. So I started doing it and they pitched a few balls up and I hit some nicely down the ground. [They bowled] a couple of short ones, I was getting out of the way, and I was pulling them and everything just sort of clicked into place. I thought geez, why did I wait so long to do this?"

Opening up the leg side

"The way I would go across my stumps and get to where I get to, I basically know that anything outside my eyeline is not hitting my stumps. So that's a start. So I can just leave anything outside my eyeline. Then basically it's like if the ball's on my stumps, use my bat. If I'm missing it I'm probably in some trouble but I'd back myself to hit the ball 99 times out of 100 hopefully. Every now and again I'll miss one, I'll say, bad luck Steve, move on."

The mental aspect

"I don't know what's orthodox or unorthodox. I just do me and do it to the best of my ability. I've learned a lot over the years and got more experience the more I've played and understand different tempos of the game. When to up the ante, when to rein it back in. I think one of the best things that I've learned over the years is also catching my thoughts. I think the mental side of the game is probably 90% of the game. Sometimes out in the middle I might be facing someone and I feel in a good rhythm and it's like I just want to smack this bloke back over his head. But then being able to catch it and go, right, you know that's not the right thing to do right now. Yes, I might be able to do it nine out of ten times, but what if it's the tenth time and things don't work out? I'll be sitting back in the sheds and I'll be angry at myself for playing some stupid shot. So put your head back down and concentrate on the next ball and I think that's one of the things I've been able to learn over time is catching my thoughts and stopping myself from giving in to urges to play different shots and things like that."

The Don Bradman comparison

"I really haven't watched much at all on Bradman. He was obviously a fair bit before my time but he obviously had a method that worked for him. I reckon I am sort of go out with my hands and the bat, probably from Mark Waugh more than anyone. He was the person I loved watching as a kid and he sort of used to bring the bat out and round [in his backlift], so you know your hands kind of get that sort of muscle memory and it's hard to change that kind of thing from when you're young. So I guess that's where it probably started for me and I just sort of carried on doing it."