Dubai: For Steve Smith, the Indian Premier League has been an incredible journey. He started with the Pune Warriors in 2012 when his electric fielding won plaudits. That was when he barely cemented his place in the Australian squad.
Now he’s one of the two best players in the world. One of the modern greats. And he leads the Rajasthan Royals, who boast of four world-class players in their ranks.
Smith plays down his stature in world cricket. He says, he just goes in and does his best: whether it’s for Rajasthan Royals, New South Wales or Australia. And he’s served them all wonderfully well. And in Tests, he’s scored some stunning centuries, especially when Australia are in the woods.
The Australian’s batting technique is certainly not out of the coaching manuals. At the crease, he’s like a cat on a hot tin roof: barely still. But his unorthodox methods have worked well for him: more than 7,000 runs in Tests and over 4,000 in ODIs bear testimony. And more runs are in store.
The ongoing campaign of Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2020 have not gone too well so far. They, however, crept up to fifth position in the leaderboard after a vital two points against Chennai Super kings on Monday. From now on, every match is like a final, the former Australian captain says. “We have to win every game,” he adds.
Smith took time off from the Rajasthan Royals’ camp to talk to Gulf News. Here’s what he said:
Gulf News: To start with, we remember seeing you for the first time as a fresh-faced youngster with Pune Warriors in the IPL about 10 years back. How has the role IPL played a role in your journey so far?
Steve Smith: Yes, its been an incredible injourney. It was such a great experience to play for Pune Warriors. The IPL has been a great stage where you are sharing the dressing room with the likes of (Jos) Buttler, (Jofra) Archer or (Rahul) Tewatia. it gives you an opportunity to play against some of the best players of the world like AB (de Dilliers).
It’s been a great learning curve for me. I still continue to learn.
The campaign of Rajasthan Royals have not quite gone the way you would have liked to. However, some matches have been really close ones..
Yes, the equation is very simple, every game is like a final now. The last two games (versus Delhi Capitals & RCB) have been disappointing as we got ourselves into winning positions. They were tough pills to swallow. The positive thing is we have been playing good cricket for most part of these games but we need to close out the games.
It’s been already a few months that you had been out of home now, first in England and now in Dubai. How difficult has been life in the bubble and how are you coping with it?
Living in the bubble is very different and quite tough. However, we were also very fortunate to play some cricket in England, which we love. Then BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), the UAE government have put together this IPL despite such challenging circumstances. It’s difficult times, but we are unfortunate to be doing what we love to do for a living.
The IPL is now in it’s business-end. It’s fascinating to see how there has been no lack of intensity among the players despite coming out of a long downtime and no crowd. Fortunately, there have been no major injuries also?
Yes, some players may have taken a bit longer than others to get into shape. I am one of them who is very much a rhythm player, there are others who make it seem that the action never stopped. I need to spend some time in the middle to be able to bat the way I do than just slog, you see practising at the nets is not an alternative. To that extent, I was happy with the way I was striking the ball in the last game (against RCB).
Let’s turn our attention to Test cricket, where you boast of the highest average among current generation (62.84). Can you share your thoughts about batting in Tests?
Look, it’s different. I love batting for hours...it’s a different game. There is a lot more patience involved. different tactics to get you out. I was fortunate to have some success in last six to seven years and hopefully, I can continue that and win games for Australia.
It seems you come up with these centuries and big knocks whenever Australia is in trouble. What is your thought process like?
I try and do whatever I can when the team is in trouble, you can say that I enjoy batting under pressure. I have been fortunate to dig the team out of holes a few times. I dont put much pressure on myself for these situations, I just get into the zone and bat. I will continue to do what I do.
There was a time when we saw you bowling leg spin. How come you don’t do it now?
(Pause) Around 2012, I had to take a call to save my career when I was out of the team. It was about focusing on my batting and since then, I batted and batted. On hindsight, I think it was a good decision for me.
This year, we saw you featuring as the central character of two documentaries: one was ‘The Test’ on 2019 Ashes series and the other being ‘The Inside Story’ of the Royals. How did you find the business of a shooting crew encroaching on the privacy of the dressing room?
It was a different experience, to be honest. Initially, it was difficult to have a camera recording everything but after about two weeks, you get used to it. It gave a different insight into the players’ mindset.
Looking ahead, you have the India-Australia series coming up soon after IPL. How are you looking ahead at it?
It’s going to be a hard-fought series, as usual. Both teams have quality batting, bowling line-ups with some excellent fast bowlers. I am looking forward to the challenge.
There is this ongoing greatest batsman debate between you, Kohli, Root and often Williamson. Does it ever affect you when you approach a series, like say against India?
No, no...I don’t think about it at all. I just do the best that I can and let others do the comparisons. There is no case of trying to go one-up on any individual. It’s just about playing and doing my best: whether it’s for Rajasthan Royals, New South Wales or Australia.
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Your concussion incident during The Ashes last year threw up someone like Marnus Labuschange, now a rock in Australia’s Test batting line-up. How do you sum up his rise?
Oh, he has come on in leaps and bounds. He’s hungry for runs and likes to keep on batting. We get on well with each other and challenge each other too. He has got the makings of being one of the greats of the game. Hopefully, we have got a good summer ahead of us.
Finally, any other future young talents in Australia who have caught your eye?
Good question, I think there are plenty of them. It’s upto them about honing their game so that they can shine on the big stage. We will wait to find out who among them can come up to the top...