He's a genius: Ponting says Smith only compares to one
He may not break any of Sir Donald Bradman's most famous records, but Ricky Ponting says Steve Smith is on track to be one of the greatest ever to play the game
Sam Ferris at Old Trafford
6 September 2019, 07:38 AM AEST
When Ricky Ponting, Australia's greatest run-scorer and most successful captain, is asked to describe Steve Smith in his current form, the first word that comes to mind is 'genius'.
Smith was every part the batting mastermind on Thursday at Old Trafford as he re-wrote the history books with his 26th Test century and third Ashes double hundred as he powered his country into a dominant position after two days of play.
While the raw statistics of Smith's innings are impressive in isolation – 211 runs in 513 minutes, 24 fours and two sixes – the story the numbers do not tell is how England’s bowlers have been left scratching their heads trying to devise a plan that will dismiss the right-hander cheaply.
But Ponting says the mental hold he has on his opponents puts his incredible form on another level.
"You hear all sorts of words, 'genius' is one that comes to mind," Ponting told cricket.com.au when asked to sum up Smith's knock.
"A remarkable innings again today. It's his application to what he does. He just doesn't make any mistakes. His concentration levels are obviously unbelievably good.
"He's got a game plan that's working incredibly well for him to the point where it just looks like teams have no idea how they're going to bowl to him, where they're going to bowl to him, how they're going to get him out.
"Right now, he's on top of his game but he's also got every opposition team exactly where he wants them.
"To sit back and watch it all unfold again today and sit in the commentary box with the English commentators - they're just continually asking 'how are we going to get him out? Someone do something to get him out.'"
England did have Smith caught, but luck was on the Australian's side.
The right-hander edged left-arm orthodox spinner Jack Leach to Ben Stokes at first slip, seemingly out for 118 playing a loose drive to a ball that spun and bounced sharply.
But before Smith could get halfway to the dressing room, replays showed no part of Leach's front foot was behind the popping crease at the point of delivery.
On-field umpire Kumar Dharmasena signaled no-ball, Smith walked back to the centre of Old Trafford and his innings resumed.
Smith added another 93 before he holed out to backward point playing a reverse sweep from the bowling of England skipper Joe Root
It appears unlikely that strategy will bring success again.
Even Ponting, one of cricket's sharpest minds, struggles to think of a tactic to stop Smith, but says a change of approach from England's attack could at least make scoring more difficult.
"He's only been out nine times lbw in his last 99 innings, so you know if you're bowling straight you're not going to get him out," Ponting said.
"He doesn't hit the ball in the air through the on-side and he doesn't miss them and get lbw.
"They have to think about going the other way. If he's going to get 200 make him get 160 of those on the off-side, not 150 of those on the leg-side and just see how you go there.
"The one thing you have to do is try and challenge the outside of his bat. He doesn't miss it on the inside.
"If you miss it on the inside you're getting lbws, but he doesn't get out lbw.
"He's not missing on the inside of his bat, (so) try and challenge the outside of his bat for long periods of time, maybe put some protection on the off-side.
"This has all been spoken about before and most teams have tried it and they've tried around the wicket, they've tried over the wicket, they’ve tried short, they've tried full.
"He'll work out a style of play that's going to be better than what the opposition's got."
Only Sir Donald Bradman (19) has more Ashes hundreds by an Australian than Smith's 11.
Only Bradman (five) has more double centuries in Ashes cricket in England by an Australian than Smith's two.
Only Bradman (99.94) has a higher Test batting average (minimum 20 Tests) than Smith' current mark of 64.64.
And it appears only Bradman stands in the way of Smith breaking every batting record available.
While Ponting says no player will ever match Bradman's numbers, he says Smith is on track to go down as one of the best to play the game.
"Even what Smithy is doing now is remarkable, to think how good Bradman must have been to be a third again better than what Steve Smith's doing at the moment is ridiculous," he said.
"If he keeps playing and plays as much as we think he can play, he's in his early thirties now, he's got four, five, six years of good cricket ahead of him, which if you add it up that's probably another 80, 90 Test matches.
"Then he's played 150 games and could have all sorts of numbers and records by then and let's hope he does, because the way he's going about it now, the way he's playing he deserves to get the rewards from that.
"You don't always get those things in life but what he's doing he deserves to go down as one of the greats."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval