‘Smarter’ Smith the best since Bradman
IT'S becoming indisputable that Steve Smith is Australia's best batsman since Bradman as he ransacked England's Ashes attack at the WACA.
Former Test great Michael Slater declared Smith is the premier batsman for two simple reasons and that is he's the smartest and most adaptable by a considerable margin.
Mark Taylor, the man who with Brad Haddin's urging endorsed Smith's ascension to the Australian captaincy, said the captain's extraordinary hundred in Perth was as good as the 28-year-old had ever played, in a career now spanning 22 centuries from 59 Tests.
Only Bradman and former Indian maestro Sunil Gavaskar plundered so many tons in fewer Test matches, and Smith now has the second highest average in the history of the game behind The Don.
To put Smith's electric pace into perspective, it took Steve Waugh 127 Tests to make 22 hundreds.
Even modern-day superstar Ricky Ponting took 88 matches to make the first 22 of his remarkable 41 Test centuries.
Australia were staring down the barrel of trouble when Smith arrived at the crease on day two, but 24 hours later he had for the second time this series flipped an Ashes Test match on its head and had England losing their tenuous grip on the urn.
During his surge, Smith passed the 1000 runs in a season barrier for the fourth consecutive calendar year.
Only Matthew Hayden has bettered that mark - scoring 1000 for five consecutive years on the hop.
Smith took just 138 balls to register his faultless century, and it was the contrast with his 261-ball ton in the first Test in Brisbane that summed up the skipper's unparalleled talents in the modern game.
"I think he's the smartest batsman around. The difference between him and the others is that no batsman adjusts quicker to the conditions. He can score a century off 140 balls when the conditions are good," said Slater.
"Or off 300 balls if he has to. That's the difference.
"A lot of the batsmen don't play smart like he does. This was one of his great innings."
So adaptable is Smith he even managed to hide engagement ring from partner Dani Willis, when he was on his way up the Rockefeller building in New York City to propose.
"He didn't think about security on the way up," said Willis on Nine.
"He got to the security scanners with the ring in his pocket and thought, 'what am I going to do here?'
"Luckily I had a plastic bag with water in it … he said, 'I'll carry that for you,' slipped the ring in there and (I didn't know)."
Smith famously debuted as a spin bowling all-rounder batting No.8 back in 2010.
By the time he made his first hundred three years later, he had been dropped for a number of seasons and had a Test average of 29.
Since then Smith has slaughtered 22 tons in 48 Tests at a mind-blowing average of 71.
Some wondered if the pressures of captaincy would weigh down Smith like they have Joe Root.
Since becoming skipper his average has soared to 73.
"It's as good as he's ever been," said Taylor on Nine.
Smith recently ranked his three best career innings as his ton against South Africa in Centurion in 2014, his ultimate captain's knock on a Pune minefield earlier this year when Australia upset India, and his century in the first Test of this Ashes when he saved his team from a disastrous collapse.
However, based on Sunday's evidence, Smith is going to have to keep updating that list on a regular basis.
The key difference for Australia as opposed to so many of Smith's other masterclasses, was that it wasn't entirely a one-man show.
Mitchell Marsh played beautifully in his return to Test cricket to post a 100-run stand with Smith, which backed up partnerships of 100 (Khawaja) and 50 (Shaun Marsh) with the Australian skipper.
All-rounder Marsh dictated the bowling absolutely superbly from the moment he came to the crease yesterday, with Australia still more than 150 runs behind on the scoreboard.
England great Kevin Pietersen lamented the powder puff bowling tossed up to Marsh, with a limitless offering of half-volleys helping him bludgeon the scoreboard.
Marsh barely copped a short ball on his way to a superb half century.
Smith, meanwhile, kept his run-rate rocketing along and had 23 boundaries and one six leading into the tea break on day three.