Why Steve Smith Should Give Up White-Ball Cricket

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 29: Steve Smith of Australia raises his bat to the crowd as he comes from the field during a rain delay after making his century during day four of the Second Test match between Australia and Pakistan at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 29, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

Why Steve Smith Should Give Up White-Ball Cricket

There has been a recent, worrying trend of players giving up first-class cricket to focus on their white ball careers. England international stars Alex Hales and Adil Rashid are prime examples of this and it signifies the worrying rise of T20 cricket and the demise of Tests.

Most teams have the same core of players who represent their national side across all three formats. However, this is rapidly changing with players specialising and representing their national side in either one or two formats. For instance, Australia’s squad for the Trans-Tasman T20I tri-series only had one player, David Warner, who was named in their Test squad for their ongoing tour of South Africa. There is a growing schism between the majority of T20 and Test players.

Is it time then for Steve Smith to specialise and become purely a red-ball specialist?

There are several reasons why he should give up white-ball cricket, at least on the international stage.

Weaker Limited Overs Performances

A while ago, I wrote a statistical analysis of the elite “Fab Four” and compared Steve Smith’s limited over performances to those of Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. Indeed, his white-ball performances are found wanting in comparison to them, whereas his red-ball record is superior by far.

Here are the statistics to illustrate this point:

Test Matches Runs Average Hundreds
Virat Kohli 66 5554 53.40 21
Joe Root 65 5701 53.28 13
Steve Smith 61 6057 63.75 23
Kane Williamson 63 5214 50.62 17

Smith is clearly vastly superior in Test cricket, averaging over 10 more than his nearest rival and he has accumulated the most hundreds having played the fewest number of matches.

ODI Matches Runs Average Hundreds
Virat Kohli 208 9588 58.10 35
Joe Root 104 4306 50.65 10
Steve Smith 108 3431 41.84 8
Kane Williamson 124 4985 46.15 10

Viewed independently Smith’s ODI statistics seem solid, but in comparison to the other three members it is sub-par. He has the largest difference between his averages in the two formats, showing he is the most inconsistent between formats.

T20I Matches Runs Average Hundreds
Virat Kohli 57 1983 50.84 0
Joe Root 25 743 39.10 0
Steve Smith 30 431 21.55 0
Kane Williamson 51 1316 31.33 0

While Smith is dominant in red-ball cricket, his ODI and T20I, in particular, performances trail the others drastically. His recent ODI scores can back this up.

Against England, in the ODI series, Smith’s high score was just 45 in five matches. In this series he scored just 102 runs at an average of just above 20. In contrast to this, Smith was scoring runs for fun in the Test series (687 runs in five Tests at an average of 137).

When Australia toured India, Smith’s ODI high score in five matches was just 63. He went on to score 142 in that series, averaging 28. Again, there is a sharp contrast in his success in the Test series. Smith hit 499 runs in the four Tests, averaging just short of fifty in gruelling conditions.
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Smith is the current ODI captain of Australia, but under his reign the Aussies have not fared well. Over the past year, Australia have won just two out of 13 ODIs which makes for grim reading.

Given the success that David Warner has had leading the T20I side, perhaps its a subtle indication that he is the best limited-overs captain Australia has to offer. In Warner’s brief tenure as T20 captain, he has put Australia on the brink of being the number one T20 side in the world.

Thus the first stage of the argument is to acknowledge that Smith’s recent performances, both individually and a captain, have been poor in limited overs cricket but the opposite is true in Tests.

Test Cricket Focus

There have already been indications that Australia’s main priority, moving forward, is to consistently achieve success in Test cricket.

Smith was rested by the national selectors and was not selected for the Trans-Tasman T20I tri-series. This meant that Smith was able to focus and prepare on the upcoming tour of South Africa, which is a much greater challenge. It seems to have paid off as he hit a half-century on Day 1 of the ongoing First Test.

If Smith were to abandon Australia’s international white ball scene, he would be able to focus purely on playing Test cricket. Moreover, in the free time, he could then be able to play domestic cricket in other countries, such as having a county stint in England.
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There is also the very pragmatic reason which is that playing Test cricket only would simply prolong his career, as he would not be exerting himself continuously and would not put his body under as much stain. This would reduce his risk to muscle injuries.

Moreover, if Smith were to purely focus on Test cricket then he would be promoting a dying format and could help its revival. In Australia, the younger generation would then grow up watching a Test specialist and be inspired to follow him down the path of Test cricket.

At the moment there is no real Test cricket icon who inspires the younger generation to invest in playing the longer format over white-ball cricket. It could help to ensure the survival of Test cricket and could pave the way, perhaps, for more red-ball specialists.

At the moment there are already numerous players like this, and Steve Smith would be joining the company of Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay (from India) and the former England skipper Alastair Cook. Indeed, the latter is perhaps a good case study of making such a transition.

Alastair Cook Case Study

When examining Alastair Cook’s red-ball status, it is important to remember that he was somewhat kicked out of England’s ODI team. He was formerly captain of that side, but after a poor run of form, both personally and as a team, he was forced to hand over the captaincy and was no longer selected.

Nevertheless, Cook’s absence from the ODI set-up has helped his Test cricket.
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Since his last ODI late in 2014, Cook is averaging more than he did before. Playing one format has allowed him to tweak his technique sufficiently and to apply it to all cricket he plays.

It has also seemingly prolonger his career, for he has played for several years more than people expected at the height of his ODI captaincy. Indeed, Cook’s red-ball future is still promising even at the age of 33.

Therefore, Smith should certainly consider going down this route – perhaps later down his career if necessary.

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