Paine explains: What makes Smith the best in the world?
Australia Test skipper Tim Paine shares his thoughts on the keys to success for superstar teammate Steve Smith
Sam Ferris in Worcester
10 August 2019, 03:18 AM AEST
Steve Smith's ability to interpret and counter rival bowling tactics in real time is what makes him the best player in the world, according to Australia captain Tim Paine.
England were left scratching their heads trying to figure out how to dismiss Smith in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston as the right-hander posted twin hundreds of 144 and 142 to be the unanimous player of the match in Australia's 251-run win.
Veteran England seam bowler Stuart Broad said after day one in Birmingham his side had developed a set of plans for each Australian player ahead of the series, but those plans might need a tweak or perhaps an overhaul when it comes to dismissing Smith.
The 30-year-old now averages a whisker under 63 in Test cricket – the second-highest average behind Sir Donald Bradman's 99.94 among players who have batted 50 times – and has amassed 1116 runs at 139.5 in his last 10 innings against England.
Australia men's head coach Justin Langer called Smith the "best problem-solver in the game" and while Paine does not think England need to start from scratch with their strategies for Smith, he says the Australian run machine renders most plans ineffective with how fast he recognises a potential threat and finds a solution.
"Steve Smith averages over 60 in Test cricket, so I think the beauty of Steve is you can come up with a plan but he's good enough to adapt really quickly," Paine said in Worcester on Friday in the wake of Australia's drawn tour match at New Road.
"I've seen him do it between balls, I've seen him do it when guys have targeted him from one end a certain way and a completely different way from the other end.
"I think that's what makes him the best player in the world, his ability to adapt to any plan that is thrown at him.
"I think he processes it quicker than other players and adapts on the spot."
Smith's instincts and problem-solving skills are why he has scored hundreds in almost all conditions thrown at him.
He has unsurprisingly dominated on his home soil, where he has scored 13 of his 25 Test centuries and averages a mammoth 77.25.
In 2017, on the dusty, turning pitches in India, Smith became the first Australian captain to score three centuries in a series on the subcontinent, with hundreds in Pune, Ranchi and Dharamsala.
He has posted hundreds in New Zealand and England where the conditions have traditionally suited seam bowling, and while he's yet so score a hundred on a lush, green pitch abroad, his unbeaten 48 out of a total of just 85 on a seaming wicket in Hobart against a rampant South African pace attack in 2016 showed he could survive and score when the ball nipped around.
Former Australia captain Steve Waugh is one player who can match Smith's record of scoring hundreds in all conditions having posted a Test century in each cricketing continent during his illustrious playing career.
Waugh has been with the Australian team since their camp in Southampton and even he has been blown away by how Smith digests information and produces counter measures against opposing bowlers.
"He knows the opposition, what they're trying to do, how they're trying to get him out and he seems to have an answer for everything," Waugh told Wide World of Sports during the first Test.
"He's an incredible player. I don't think I've ever seen anyone quite like him and his appetite for runs is second to none.
"His technique is amazing, it's unique, but he knows what he's doing, he knows how to score runs.
"It's like he analyses every ball, and it's like a computer – he spits out the answer."
Teammate Mitch Starc has bowled to Smith for the past decade in the nets and enjoyed watching his teammate rack up run after run and break records along with the way.
But when asked if he had any sympathy for his English counterparts, Starc was quick to answer with a smile.
"Not a bit. I’m glad he’s on our team."
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, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval