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'Different' Smith ahead of the game

Ricky Ponting expects the current Australia captain's prolific run-scoring ways to continue, with opponents yet to work him out

It was a 69-year wait for another Test batsman to join the exceptionally exclusive '60-50 Club', and there is no reason why Steve Smith's prolific ways should slow down any time soon, believes his former captain Ricky Ponting.

Smith played his 50th Test in Sydney this year, joining Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs and Herb Sutcliffe as the only players to be averaging 60 at that juncture of their careers.

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And Ponting, whose own legendary deeds with the bat saw his average touch 60 in his 107th Test, said the ability of the unorthodox right-hander was evident even in his early incarnation on the international scene as a bits-and-pieces leg-spinning allrounder.

"I saw his skill. I saw his talent," Ponting told cricket.com.au. "Some of the things he would do in the nets were a lot different than what we were all probably coached.

"He'd hit a pull shot but he'd hit it with a flat bat and it would go straight back past the bowler like a tennis shot, but he'd crunch it and we were like, 'What's he doing? Why didn't he just hit a pull shot there?'

"But he could do these things that were just a little bit different."

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In the recent Border-Gavaskar series in India, Smith added three more hundreds to his name in four matches to highlight his capacity to adapt to all conditions.

It also propelled his average to 61.05; clear of Hobbs (60.73) and Sutcliffe (59.02) at the 54-Test mark in the trio's respective careers.

He's doing it in all formats, too; on Wednesday night Smith made an unbeaten 51 for Pune to bring his tally to 275 runs at 55 in IPL10 – the equal-fourth most runs in the tournament to date.

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Ponting said rival captains and bowlers had yet to develop a game plan to stop the New South Welshman's prolific scoring.

"He's moulded and changed his technique, and everyone talks about how much he moves around the crease and how much he's going to struggle against the moving ball, but at the end of the day, when the ball is released he's in a perfect position: he's very still, his head's steady, he doesn't over-balance with his footwork, and if you bowl a bad ball he's going to capitalise on it," Ponting said.

"So teams just yet probably haven't exactly worked out how to bowl (to him).

"If you wind the clock back a couple of years, Simon Katich was almost exactly the same, he reinvented himself as an opener and had a very similar sort of movement – long way back, long way across.

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"He sucked bowlers into trying to bowl straight to him because they thought they could trap him lbw.

"But if you're nice and steady and still, good players don't miss those balls on their pads, and before you know it, they're 25 not out and it's a different game."

Smith explained the genesis of his exaggerated movement on Wide World of Sports last summer; ironically it was the result of a short-ball tactic from England.

"I used to bat on middle stump," he told commentator and ex-skipper Mark Taylor. "I used to have no prelim movement – I used to stay very still with my back foot.

"I knew where my off stump was but I could be drawn a little bit wider and be able to nick and I used to get out that way a little bit.

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"(The change) was actually in the middle of a game – the WACA Test match in the Ashes 2013-14 – where they were bowling quite short at me and I decided to do a prelim movement back and across to get out of the way of the ball.

"Everything sort of just clicked into place and it felt really good, so I've continued doing it … I've moved things a little bit across to leg stump and now I'm going just outside off stump.

"It's a big movement (but) for me it's about trying to minimise the ways that you get out."

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Ponting said Smith's preliminary shuffling around the crease had an added benefit – whether intentional or otherwise.

"Running in to bowl, knowing that Smith's going to move like he does, it just makes it that little bit harder for the bowler," he added.

"He can't just run in and focus on one little area on the pitch, because Smith's moving all over the place and putting them off that.

"It's working exceptionally well for him and long may it continue."

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