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Australia's Steven Smith plays a pull in the first innings against England at Lord's on Wednesday. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Steve Smith is a perfectionist. He might lack the grace of a Mark Waugh or the technical perfection of Sachin Tendulkar, still the former Australian skipper knows how to score runs, scores runs in heaps. That comes with his meticulous preparation before every innings.

Smith is so meticulous that he even hid the shoelace in order not to get distracted. “I’ve always had an issue with looking at my shoelaces when I’m batting, and it wasn’t working, my pants weren’t hiding them. So my shoelaces would pop out and it would sort of do my head in a bit, so I ended up getting a physio to tape my shoelaces to my socks,” Smith had said. The move worked and he started scoring heavily in 2017, such is his eye for finer details.

Reliving the 2019 incident

Smith’s knock against England at Lord’s on Wednesday brings back memories of the 2019 Ashes series, which Australia took back home for the first time since 2001 after a 2-2 draw.

To the purists who don’t want to acknowledge his greatness, for them Smith is an achiever. The genius defies every coaching manual, where the first lesson is to stay still and avoid too many movements before the delivery, but he does just the opposite.

Working tirelessly to prove a point

The 34-year-old doesn’t hesitate to walk the extra mile to fine-tune his skills, one of the reasons for Smith scoring 9,000-plus runs in 98 Tests, a mark he crossed during the first innings.

The star batter was just returning from a one-year ban for his role in Sandpaper-gate in South Africa, and his 2019 Ashes performance was extremely important for the Australian to show the world that he is not a spent force, yet. At this backdrop, former Australia assistant coach Sridharan Sriram recounts an incident to Gulf News when Smith worked tirelessly to ensure that he puts his best foot forward in the series by ensuring all the aspects of his batting are in sync before taking on his arch-rivals, England.

Sridharan Sriram

“Smith is fidgety about his feel more than anything. As he’s got so many movements, everything has to be perfectly synchronised from him, from where he taps the bat, to when he picks up, to when he shuffles. So for him that synchronisation and feel is extremely important,” the former India all-rounder said.

Batting on and on and on...

“Smith did not have the best of World Cups in 2019 and was pretty nervous as the crowds were giving him a lot of abuse and he was getting booed in the stands. We were in Edgbaston [before the first Test], the team practice finished around 12 noon and everybody went home. But Steve wanted to stay back and have an extra hit. So we [former England batter Graeme Hick, Smith and I] started around 1pm. We kept throwing, and he was hitting, hitting, hitting. It’s 2.15, 3, 3.15pm still he is hitting the balls and Hick was trying to tell him something, but Smith said ‘don’t worry about anything, just keep bowling as I am trying different things.’ So it was like 4, 4.15pm. I was telling Graeme in jest, please throw in some halfvolleys so that we could go home, don’t get him out.

“Around 4.15, he just came out and looked like at last he has finished his session. No. He changed his gloves and resumed his batting for another half an hour and almost at 4.40pm, suddenly after hitting one ball, he said I’m good, we’re good to go. So then Hick asked him, you hit for three hours and suddenly you came out, what happened? He said I was just working on where I should tap my bat, I got it right, and I’m good for tomorrow. Next day, he got a 100 in each innings and it also shows what kind of a character and his work ethics,” Sriram narrated without a pause.

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Steve Smith acknowledges the cheers after reaching his 37th half-century on Wedenesday. Image Credit: Reuters

In that series, Smith top-scored with 774 runs in seven innings, missing one after being substituted during the second Test at Lord’s, becoming the first concussion substitute.

Self-belief is the key

The self-belief that Smith possesses makes him the dangerous player that he is. Boos only spurs him on to perform better, similar to what happened at Lord’s on Wednesday.

Smith, who was booed when he walked in, walked off at stumps, after leading Australia’s charge with an unbeaten 85 and putting on invaluable partnerships with Marnus Labuschagne, the batter who came in as a concussion substitute for Smith in 2019, and Travis Head under testing conditions.

“Smith believes in performing in any situation and it is not a false thing. He genuinely believes that if he is there, he can win. A lot of people have not seen that kind of self belief, in the way he talks, in the way he takes on any attack in any conditions. I think he is unbelievable,” Sriram concluded.