Steve Smith’s shonky technique keeps him hiding in plain sight

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

The notion of a ‘best batsman in the world’ is stupid. You rate them based on what’s already happened and it counts for nothing the next time they’re pitched into competitive cricket. Cricket is not a prolonged personal odyssey, it’s a series of matches between teams. A high ranking gives you some idea who to look out for, but it is not an end in itself.

The buffer

In December, Steve Smith scored a hundred and we said that everyone would instantly forget the situation the day before and now proclaim him clearly the best batsman in the world.

Our point was that Smith, Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson were all performing at a similar level and ‘the best batsman in the world’ was generally whoever had been batting most recently.

Well, according to the latest rankings, Smith’s opened up a gap. Like so many foods, rankings are best served heavily salted – but they can be informative. According to these ones, not only can Smith afford a couple of failures and still be ahead of his contemporary rivals, his current score is also behind only four other batsmen ever.

Smith is on 941, looking up to the peak scores of Don Bradman (961), Len Hutton (945), Jack Hobbs (942) and Ricky Ponting (also 942 – has anyone checked the decimals?).

Viv Richards and Garry Sobers peaked at 938; Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers never topped 935; and Brian Lara never got above 911.

What does this tell us?

Steve Smith is not better than all of the above. What this tells us that he’s been playing well for long enough to earn himself entry into the kinds of mind-crushingly tedious putting-players-in-order conversations that the comments sections of cricket websites occasionally descend into.

That, in itself, is a notable achievement. It’s also further fuel for our argument that batsmen with hideous techniques are fundamentally better bets than stylish ones. Not only do the shonkier-looking have to do more to win people over, their textbook rivals may also have little room for technical improvement.

In short, succeed with a dog shit method and you’ve probably got a half decent eye.

Myopic hindsight

Smith’s technique is very much his own. Back in 2013, we floated the possibility that this could be misleading, but it was still impossible to foresee what was to come.

In many ways it remains hard to see – even when sporting the night vision goggles of hindsight. The numbers are there (he averages 60.98), but can you honestly say that you don’t still think to yourself: “Ah, things’ll sort themselves out eventually. Give it time.”

What if things don’t sort themselves out? What if Steve Smith is the best batsman in the world?

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19 Appeals

  1. Of all time? Like from minus infinity to plus infinity? That is madness! Madness, I tell you!

    • King Cricket

      March 22, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      He’s better than Fred Flintstone and George Jetson.

      • I’m not so sure. Back when I was still dabbling with science, I saw George make a chance-less 160* from 25 balls. Granted it was tapeball cricket, but his running was great.

  2. King Cricket

    March 22, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Unrelated, but our Facebook experiment is continuing if you want to follow(?) us. https://www.facebook.com/kingcricket.co.uk/

    We do realise that we are basically advertising a way of finding the site to a load of people who, without exception, found it in other ways.

    We don’t really know how you’re supposed to reach the Facebook people though, so this is the approach we’re left with.

    • I’ve already Liked, Shared ‘n’ Retwatted this site with all of my cricket-loving friend. He’s apathetic at best. Apathetic waste of space, moreover.

      Might I suggest a competition/free giveaway of any miscellaneous cricket-related tat you have lying around for anyone who likes or shares your posts, or some King Cricket stationery to hand out at test matches?

      • King Cricket

        March 22, 2017 at 4:33 pm

        We stopped doing competitions because they always seemed to end up with us as a helpless middleman in some nightmare of logistics that wasn’t of our own making. We got more entries than you’d expect, which is perhaps an indication that your idea is a good one.

    • I talk you up all the time on Ogblog and have (so far) tagged you 34 times; that’s four more times than “county championship” although 25 times fewer than “Middlesex”:

      http://ianlouisharris.com/tag/king-cricket/

      I could work harder for you at this, but I think we should entertain the possibility that the people who take an interest in the cricket pieces on Ogblog might overlap a good deal with the people who take an interest in King Cricket.

      I won’t draw the Venn; you can visualise it.

      Keen and happy to help drumming up interest if I can. My inability to distinguish breasts from back (see comments on previous piece) might be a help or an impediment or an irrelevance.

      • King Cricket

        March 22, 2017 at 4:38 pm

        Yes, it could be that that those two sites combined don’t boast the readership of Facebook.

        Also, while we can’t say for definite what proportion of your readers we’ve attracted to King Cricket, we can state with some confidence that we’ve attracted most of the ones who read King Cricket – if not all of them.

        Just feels like Facebook is the greater untapped resource at this point.

  3. Elite sport is exhilarating, exciting, unpredictable and impossibly skilful.

    Statistics are dull, grey, dull, uninteresting, dull, dull and tedious.

    What is it about sports fans, presumably attracted to sport in the first place by that former list of qualities, that makes them want to reduce sport to the latter? Why do they do it? I get that the data and the statistics are useful to the people who are doing elite sport, as part of the way in which they continue to do elite sport. But the rest of us?

    As you say, KC, the rankings don’t mean that Steve Smith will score well in his next match, or indeed in his next series. If they did mean that, the unpredictability of sport would have been lost, and it would be time to find something else to do. So, the rankings can only be one of two things:

    a) Useless
    b) Spoiling things

    Just bear that in mind when Sky develops a new graph.

    • King Cricket

      March 22, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      Maybe people are trying to reduce the sport to tediousness in the hope that they’ll then be able to ignore it and so find the time to paint the spare room.

      • You have no idea how tedious a sport would have to be to move “painting the spare room” above watching that sport in my pecking order.

        Golf, perhaps?

        Fishing.

      • Formula One, Ged? Only overtaking happens when cars go into pit lanes…

    • I’ve always thought cricket commentary is so keen on stats because they have to fill all that time with something.

  4. Not a mention for the Rahul D of our era Mr piñata. Or indeed Mr Pujara.

    Needs to prove himself etc, not a odi player agreed, just a little piñata.

    Damn u merlot. Damn u autocorrect.

  5. Good techniques have been statistically proven to be rubbish, by doing it in the best way possible by comparing twins. Mark Waugh was a purist’s dream, but if you wanted to win a test match Steve was your man.

    Also Chanderpaul.

    • ‘Also Chanderpaul’ is a great way to finish any argument.

      “Why haven’t you put the bins out?”
      “I’m tired. I’ve had a long day. Also Chanderpaul.”

  6. Happy Ashley Giles Grudge Match Day, everyone.

    Ian Bell is involved, but sadly Shiv isn’t part of the Lancashire T20 side, or I could have ended this comment with … ‘Also Chanderpaul’.

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