The four stages of Steve Smith’s recurring metamorphosis into a batsman

Steve Smith is not a good batsman. Not always. Very rarely, in fact.

As far as we can tell, he’s generally only half-decent at the moment bat strikes ball and only very rarely before or afterwards.

Here are the four stages Smith passes through for every single delivery he faces.

Stage one – obsessive-compulsive who’s never worn cricket gear

Before taking guard, Steve Smith likes to swiftly have a fondle of every single item of protective equipment affixed to his body. It’s clear that he feels very, very uncomfortable in all of this stuff and will have trouble standing still, let alone playing sport.

Stage two – young man who has seen a line drawing in a cricket textbook

Straight legs, bat against foot. This is not so much a batting stance as a child’s parody of a batting stance.

Stage three – the wanderer

As the bowler runs in, Smith sets off towards point, his bat seemingly dragging him along. He has the air of someone who has maybe played cricket at some point, but no-one ever properly showed him how to do it.

Stage four – basically Don Bradman

The final stage sees Smith middling the ball with his big fat bat with all bodily parts correctly aligned. He wasn’t even put off by the fact that Chris Woakes was supposed to be bowling but then James Anderson actually delivered the ball.

We could have added a stage five, but our will to take screengrabs from a tiny app that’s very hard to accurately fast forward and rewind has now entirely departed.

Stage five would have shown him awkwardly flapping about after contact like a flat-footed grandma with a bad hip and oversized pads.

More on Steve Smith’s ‘idiosyncratic’ batting technique here.

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The Waca blunts Australia’s best bowler

Nathan Lyon to Alastair Cook (BT Sport)

The most significant question ahead of the Waca’s final appearance as an Ashes venue was not whether or not it would recover the pace of old – because it clearly wouldn’t – it was whether or not the ball would turn.

The Waca is Australia’s most over-hyped pitch and the pace of the home attack is its most over-hyped quality. Nathan Lyon is the man. Spin is what’s shaping this series.

England have left-handers at one, two, five and seven and Lyon has been hoovering up their wickets with ease. The tourists’ best hope has been that the dust of their demises might eventually clog his filters.

The bad news for England

Lyon might have struggled to make much impact, but so did everyone else. With the old ball, in particular, nothing happened. The Kookaburra’s behaviour became as flat and featureless as the Nullarbor Plain that keeps Perth safely detached from the rest of Australia.

Wickets don’t look easy to come by and there was no obvious theme to the dismissals. Cook was near-yorked, Joe Root suffered legside strangulation (it’s not unlucky – either middle it or leave it) while Mark Stoneman gloved a lifter.

You can guess what happened to James Vince.

Causing dismissal by careless driving

According to Cricinfo, James Vince’s unbreakable addiction to nicking the ball behind has to be weighed against the fact that he scores 37 per cent of his runs through the covers. We disagree. All this statistic says to us is that Vince is a compulsive driver who will keep on lashing out at deliveries outside off stump until he’s invited to leave the field of play by the umpire’s raised finger.

Responsible driving

Dawid Malan is the man no-one particularly wanted to see picked in the first place but he’s also the man no-one has since wanted to drop.

Like Vince, he hit a few nice drives. But then, just as crucially, sometimes he didn’t.

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England are too passionate

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Can we be the first to accuse them of that? People reflexively go the other way, accusing losing teams of lacking commitment, determination or heart, but it’s almost always the exact opposite.

As we’ve written before, passion is not a cure-all. Passion drives you to things like losing all perspective, obsessing, never resting and eventually having a mental breakdown.

According to Alastair Cook this week: “Trevor Bayliss is cancelling practice sessions after three and a half/four hours. He’s saying: ‘You’ve go to stop now; you’re wasting energy; you’ve got to save it for the Test.’”

Trevor Bayliss is probably right, but for a certain sort of person (players, coaches and fans) the answer is always more work.

Part of the problem is that there always has to be an avoidable reason for defeat. To not be as good as the opposition in their home conditions is simply not acceptable. Defeats must be the consequence of some major character flaw, like laziness.

However, players fail for different reasons and at any given time more work is just as likely to compound a problem as resolve it.

Players like Cook and Kevin Pietersen are methodical and like to address specific problems with specific drills. Cook himself describes the secret of his success thus: “I try my bollocks off really; it’s as simple as that.”

In contrast, someone like David Gower took a broader, more rhythmic view of batting. His view was that he should spend more time in the nets when he was already in form as this would help him groove good movements and timing. Conversely, he saw practice when out of form as being counterproductive as it would come to make poor habits second nature.

Jonathan Trott is the classic case against ‘practice makes perfect’. Trott essentially lost the ability to switch off. His response to failure was to work himself harder and harder – even though all he was really succeeding in doing was eroding his capacity to work hard.

Some of this England squad will benefit from doing a little more work. A lot of them won’t, but hopefully none of them are guilty of the biggest crime of all.

There is a temptation, in a losing team, to do not what’s best for you, but what’s perceived to be good by others – essentially a reputational damage limitation exercise having already accepted defeat.

It’s unlikely anyone’s going down that road – not least because one person who’d be decidedly unimpressed with the effort is the coach.

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England v South Africa Lord’s ODI report from 2008

Ged Ladd writes:

A Sunday at Lord’s with Daisy. We sat in the Mound Stand, next to a charming South African gentleman and his Zimbabwean friend. We chatted with them.

In particular, the Zimbabwean gentleman explained the currency chaos prevailing in Zimbabwe at that time; sacks full of bank notes to buy basic items, the authorities producing ever larger, ludicrously large denomination bank notes; worthless before they had even rolled off the printing presses.

I asked the gentleman if I might buy some from him as humorous prizes for our Z/Yen edutainment games. He said he had none with him but sack loads at home. He said his wife would bring some for me when she was next in London, in a few weeks’ time.  We exchanged contact details.

A thunderstorm came; the gentlemen skedaddled, despite Daisy’s and my accurate prediction that the rain would soon pass.

A few weeks’ later, a mysterious woman arrived at Z/Yen’s City office with an enormous envelope stuffed with massive denomination Zimbabwean dollar bank notes.

As we Lord’s folk say; another day, another several hundred billion dollars.

Send your match reports to If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.

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If Ben Duckett tipped a drink over someone’s head, here’s what England should do…

Ben Duckett (ECB)

Say so.

They should say “Ben Duckett tipped a drink over someone’s head.”

This occurred to us while we were watching BBC news this morning and the reporter was listing England’s “alcohol-related incidents.” The terminology conjured a real ‘everything’s totally out of control’ feel, even though at least one of these three events was just a weird greeting.

‘Alcohol-related incident’ covers a lot of different events – everything from not buying your round to killing a family while drink-driving.

What we’d suggest is that if any given alcohol-related incident falls into the more trivial half of that spectrum, it’s probably worth providing details so that no-one gets carried away.

To say that England have suffered three alcohol-related incidents in recent times groups these things together in a way that makes no real sense.

Ben Stokes breaking someone’s eye socket is not the same as Jonny Bairstow nuzzling someone hello and neither incident is the same as tipping a bit of beer over a colleague.

The ‘narrative’ of England’s disorderly booze-fuelled lairiness is that in September one cricketer was involved in an altercation with violent homophobes and then three months later another English cricketer dampened someone.

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Moeen Ali to get into bowling rhythm by not bowling in warm-up match

Moeen Ali (Sarah Ansell)

Moeen Ali is the only member of the second Test team who will play England’s latest warm-up match. He will do so because a side strain at the start of the tour left him short of overs.

He won’t bowl.

England are presumably of the opinion that Moeen will be infused with bowling simply through being near it. One can only hope that the batsmen will find form in similar fashion.

Watch out for which members of England’s Test top five don the High-Visibility Tabard of Squad Membership to carry drinks. These are the ones who are sure to make runs in the third Test.

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Three reasons why Australia will more than likely collapse at the Waca

Shaun Marsh thinks about what he owes (BT Sport)

Australia do like to collapse. Amid all the talk of conditions, bowling attacks and Steve Smith’s runsome proclivities, this is the one thing in favour of the tourists.

England like to collapse too, of course. They just have to hope that they do it less frequently – or at least less comprehensively – than their hosts.

Is there any reason to assume that this will be the case? Let’s take a look at some selective facts/prejudices.

It happens

Speaking earlier this year, Smith said that his team was collapsing something like four times in every five innings.

Okay, we can’t remember the exact frequency (unlike larger, more profitable websites, you have to do your own research for these articles). It was often though. Take our word for that.

Steve Smith is rattled

This is obvious because he said that England’s sledging only inspired him and made him more focused. When it was put to him that his wasn’t exactly an impartial view on the matter, he replied: “Oh no – even from an unbiased point of view.”

If someone says that being sledged really helped them, it seems safe to assume that it did the exact opposite. Particularly when they made an unbeaten hundred unsledged and 40 and six when sledged.

Shaun Marsh needs to repay his duck tax

Marsh was always going to make a hundred. That’s the upside of the pact you make when you select him. The downside is that you must then endure the protracted “oh wait, maybe he hasn’t cracked it” as the world rights itself again.

In summary

Look, England haven’t actually lost the Ashes yet, so we might as well wring what we can out of this series while it’s still technically live.

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Hope can hibernate

Jimmy Anderson (via BT Sport)

Hope never truly dies. It can however recede to the extent that it entirely loses consciousness. It’s safe to say that at around the point Australia emerged for their second innings, hope was in deep hibernation. A little while later it re-emerged after faint rays of Jimmy Anderson had warmed the metaphorical earth.

It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t let opposition batsmen pass 20. Anderson managed the unthinkable and all but forced several of England’s specialist batsmen to perform semi-competently. He also persuaded people to talk more about Steve Smith’s non-enforcement of the follow-on than Joe Root’s insertion of Australia on day one (it’s odd how often the cricket itself is seen as somehow secondary to the captains’ decision-making).

Anderson finished with five wickets, but encouraged the umpire to raise his finger on about eight occasions. His brilliance is not that he can make use of more helpful conditions; it is that he invariably does.

England’s second innings scorecard currently sports the prefix “If…”

If they can have a good partnership early on day five, their target of 354 will actually start to seem attainable.

If Joe Root is out early on, hope might start to feel a little dozy again.

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Video: The Barmy Army goad Steve Smith about his use of DRS

Like most wild animals, The Barmy Army are generally best viewed from afar – ideally on television or at the very least with some sort of robust barrier between you and them.

They can also be very funny.

Australians sometimes struggle to comprehend that the same bounce that can make life difficult for visiting batsmen also means that a lot of deliveries will go over the stumps.

Steve Smith frittered his reviews away, failing to learn this lesson. When Australia next appealed for LBW, the Barmy Army did this at him.

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Commence the straw-clutching

Craig Overton showing intent or something (BT Sport)

Grasp at them. Clutch them. Savour the delightful sensation of straws against palms.

England are methodically addressing each of their shortcomings in turn. For some reason the first one they turned their attention to was ‘tail getting blown away by short-pitched bowling’.

England’s tail is supposed to be ‘fragile’ compared to Australia’s. This was expected to be something that would haunt them throughout the Magellan Ashes (movement rate of all ships is increased by two).

No-one seemed to acknowledge that Australia had only ever exposed one tail-end batsman at a time in the first Test, the other end being clogged up by Steve Smith. That wasn’t the story. The story was England tail-enders terrified by Australia’s short-pitched bowling.

In the second Test, England’s run-scoring finally clicked in at about the moment Australia renounced the stumps following the dismissal of Jonny Bairstow. Chris Woakes and Craig Overton plopped a few into the air, but also accumulated a few runs.

Just think how handy a couple of 30s from eight and nine would be if they actually got to play alongside a specialist batsman for once. Maybe that could be next on England’s list of things to urgently address – runs from the batsmen.

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