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Steve Smith, the man in charge

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Steve_Smith_cricket_AustraliaIf there is one team that has pretty much seen everything in 2016- victories, defeats, upsets, surprises and a cricketing frenzy then it is Australia. In what has clearly been David Warner's top notch year thanks to thundering batting form, Australia have much for their critics to criticize, despite garnering some impressive victories.

In a year where South Africa trounced them, Sri Lanka blanked them in what was their worst tour to the island, and the West Indies almost upset them in the ODI tri-series also featuring the Proteas, Australia’s recent rout of the Kiwis and their avoiding an upset against Pakistan at the Gabba aren’t quite as sweet. Questions linger about their consistency, given the nature of a number of their defeats.

Of late, Australia have become one of the most vulnerable sides in international cricket despite their flair and firepower

This isn't to say that Australia have become punching bags for other teams. This transition phase post the retirements of Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and most importantly Mitchell Johnson, has dramatically changed the fabric of team Australia. They are very much a young side. They've got Mitchell Starc, inarguably the world's best new ball fast bowler. They boast a promising batting line up led by the fiery David Warner at the top, while the likes of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb consolidate their position. But despite these positives, Australia have found themselves wanting.

We need not be reminded of how indomitable this side was under the exemplary leadership of Steve Waugh who led men like Hayden, Gilchrist, his brother Mark, Warne and McGrath to steamroll the world's best sides. Purists, regardless of the recent Aussie bashing (most noticeably in 2016), consider the indefatigable leadership of Steve Smith the saving grace for a side that wishes to claw its way back into serious action.

2016 is done and dusted but Smith has proved a point

In the process of various upsets, the personal form of captain Smith has lent some respectability to a side marred by several losses. Bolstered by 3 hundreds and 5 fifties in 10 Tests, leading to 914 runs in 2016, Smith has consistently kept up with his lofty standards of batting even in the limited over format, where his 1154 runs have been decorated with 3 hundreds and 7 fifties.

Even as his Australia were utterly dominated by South Africa and Sri Lanka, Smith's consistency is evidenced by a Test average of 61 and an ODI average of 50. This balm has made the pain from the scathing attacks rupturing the skin of his side more bearable, albeit still quite a hurtful affair.

As a captain, he may at times appear naïve. This is often seen when his own compatriots criticize his tactics, the most recent example being Mark Taylor's unhappiness with Smith setting a defensive field at Gabba.

 

And yet he is surely the best man to lead Australia at the moment. As a young leader in charge of a fiery blend of experienced vets and talented newbies, Smith seems to be the glue that can get the side together.

He has batted, despite overwhelming odds, at a dismissive strike rate of 89 in ODIs this year, only underlining his ability to contribute with the bat when the chips are down. That glorious 108 at Kingsmead didn't help Aussies win, but it proved that they had a captain who relished fighting back with the bat.

An Aussie leader who answers with the bat is a refreshing change

World cricket has often witnessed unwanted outbursts from the likes of Ricky Ponting and even Steve Waugh. But in Steve Smith's era, while the classic Aussie temperament might still exist thanks to blokes like Josh Hazlewood and David Warner (the latter looking more delightful hitting sixes at will than giving opposition lip-service) but out and out expletives will recede, one hopes, in favor of letting blooming performances dominate.

Steve Smith is not a man you would consider a visible exponent of using sledges and verbals. His tremendous Test stats from 2016 reaffirm the notion that real victory for a batsman lies in the answers he offers through the bat.

While the likes of Boult, Southee, Wagner, Herath, Rabada and others have time and again troubled the Aussies, Smith has led from the front to show his side all they could have done by taking the attack into his hands. In striking an affirmative 138 at Christchurch in February, Smith, whose innings was overshadowed by Joe Burns' 170 in the same match, has reminded all that patience and grit can help a team result. Smith's uncelebrated 2016 heroics suggest that favorable results can be garnered from thoughtful application and patience instead of mindless heaves and thoughtless hoicks, demonstrated shabbily in 2016 by credible talents like Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell, from whom the world and Australia expect a lot better.

A year made beautiful by Virat Kohli, and exciting by the heroics of Ashwin, Pujara, Joe Root, Yasir Shah and Devendra Bishoo, sees in Steve Smith the light of hope amidst the despair that Australia have endured. Smith's unsung form suggests that a side should battle it out over time instead of burning away quickly. This should be the abiding rule for his team in the next year in their bid to help Smith dominate the way they have done in the past. 

 

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