OPINION | Infuriating greatness of Steve Smith opens door for captaincy recall

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Steve Smith is not a pretty batsman to watch. 

He is relentlessly fidgety, his 'swat-leaves' leaves are borderline cringeworthy and every action, regardless of how simple or insignificant, is exaggerated to the point where his entire batting ritual turns into one mild panic attack. 

Batting, for the best in the business anyway, was never meant to look this complicated. 

And make no mistake, Smith is the best in the business.  

The way he has played in his three Ashes innings so far confirm that. Scores of 144, 142 and 92 tell their own story, but they do not tell the whole story. 

This is a man who, through his own poor judgment, went from sitting on top of the world to having his career and life crushed. 

Smith cheated. He wasn't the only one, but as captain of Australia, the backlash from 'sandpapergate' was particularly brutal for him. 

When he returned to Australia and fell apart in front of the world at what is a now iconic press conference, Smith was buried and he had become the face of cheating in sport. 

After serving a year-long ban, Smith and his fellow ball-tamperer David Warner returned at the Cricket World Cup in England. 

While Warner was electric, Smith was more subdued, though he still scored four 50s in 10 knocks at an average of a little under 40. 

It is in the longer format, though, where Smith is most at home and what he has done over the first two Ashes Tests has almost single-handedly given the Aussies a 1-0 lead going into the third at Headingley this week. 

Smith, of course, might not be a part of that match. 

He is experiencing symptoms of concussion, and if you saw the incident in question you would understand why. 

The blow he took to the neck on Saturday was sickening, and because of where and how the ball hit him, it immediately took the mind back to that tragic accident that killed Phil Hughes.

Smith, floored by Jofra Archer, was fortunately able to walk off the field following some seriously worrying moments. 

Remarkably, he was back out to bat just 45 minutes later in a display of courage that is up there with the bravest moments seen on a cricket field in modern times. 

He had no business coming back out and it would have been more sensible and safer to head straight to hospital and play no further part in the contest. 

Yet, there he was, striding back out to the middle at 80* being greeted by a ring of boos from certain sections of the Lord's crowd. 

It was not English cricket's finest moment, booing a man who had just experienced a terrifying injury. 

Smith was understandably not himself after the Archer blow and he was out for 92 leaving a straight one from Chris Woakes, but the act of coming out to bat when his country needed him most is something that has to be appreciated, regardless of the transgressions that came before. 

"I'll do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it's caused," Smith said at that iconic press conference following his return to Australia in March last year. 

"I know I will regret this for the rest of my life. I'm absolutely gutted. I hope in time I can earn back respect and forgiveness."

Now, almost 18 months later, it looks like Smith is on the road to redemption. 

Upon his return, all he could do was help Australia win matches and play the game with his head held high and in the right spirit. 

He has exceeded all of those expectations, and has done so with class. 

Having dragged cricket through the mud last year, Smith is now making headlines for the right reasons. 

This Ashes series has been enthralling so far, and a large chunk of that is solely down to Smith. He is giving Test cricket an injection of intrigue at a time when it needs it most. 

He is making it right. 

The boos will probably never go away entirely, and that is part of the bed that Smith has made for himself. There is nothing he can do to change that now. 

But if leaders are those who stand up in the face of adversity, going to battle in the front line for their teams, then Australia have one of those in Smith. 

He remains an infuriating player to watch, but he is a living great, and a return to captaincy might not be far away. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

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