Smith marks SCG return with T20 title
Steve Smith captains Sutherland to the NSW Premier T20 championship in his return to the Sydney Cricket Ground
17 December 2018, 11:50 AM AEST
As Virat Kohli made his not-so-subtle gesture to a global television audience on reaching a majestic century on Sunday, the man universally regarded as his only peer for the title of this generation's leading batsmen marked a milestone of his own in more low-key circumstances.
While the Australian team he used to lead was searching for a way to penetrate Kohli's defences in Perth, Steve Smith was at the SCG leading his club side Sutherland to the title of NSW Premier T20 champions.
Congratulations to @sutherlanddcc, your #KingsgroveT20Cup champions! Full report and highlights to follow tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/pqc9yRldoD— Cricket NSW (@CricketNSW) December 16, 2018
Not only were the semi-final and final of the competition Smith’s first matches back on a major Australian cricket ground since his year-long domestic and international ban was imposed in March, it was also the first time he’s captained a team since the ball-tampering scandal.
Although he's barred from holding a leadership position in international and domestic cricket for another 12 months after his suspension lapses, there were no such issues with him filling in as club skipper on Sunday.
Smith cut a contented figure as he strode to the middle and discussed field settings with opening bowler Jake Wilson for his side’s first match of the day.
If he allowed himself to momentarily imagine he was wearing his Baggy Green again instead of the baby-blue colours of Sutherland, he was quickly brought back to earth following a farcical delay that put play on hold for almost 30 minutes.
The electronic sight screen at the southern end of the historic ground proved immovable three overs into St George's innings when off-spinner Tom Doyle opted to bowl around the wicket. It left ground staff and Sutherland players with no choice but to manually unpin the enormous white sheet draped over the Victor Trumper Stand's empty seats and force the batters to do their best to sight the ball out of the blue seats.
It was a far cry from the attention to detail Smith is used to at the higher levels of cricket, not that he seemed to mind.
The 29-year-old rolled out four overs of leg-spin for the reward of two wickets - and watched as teammate Austin Waugh plucked an outfield screamer - before he got his turn to do what he loves the most.
Batting at No.3 and with all his idiosyncrasies on display, Smith took to the task of chasing down a modest total of 112 with trademark attention to detail. A cut shot marked his first and only four of the knock, his only other 'boundary' being a close-run two that ricocheted off Doyle's helmet and away for four overthrows.
He ticked himself off when he hit a ball to the man at cover, forcefully displaying with his gloved left hand how he'd meant to hit the ball in the gap to the fielder's right.
From 4-62, Smith expertly manoeuvered the field with ones and twos, reaching 42 off only 44 deliveries by the time Doyle hit the winning runs with 12 balls to spare.
Smith’s subsequent innings in a tense final victory over Sydney University was briefer and more eventful.
His opponents were convinced they had him out first ball when a brute of a delivery from Uni paceman Ben Joy struck him on the shoulder and ballooned for a catch, with replays on Cricket NSW's live stream showing the correct call of not out had been made. A glorious square cut followed a less-then-glorious French cut, before Joy nicked him off for 19 as Sutherland claimed the trophy thanks to a five-wicket win.
Almost a year after he’d held aloft the replica Ashes urn and celebrated with his teammates in front of the SCG Members’ Stand, Smith stood in the same spot and received a premiership cup in front of a smattering of loyal club players and supporters.
Having been forced to ply his trade in far-flung venues in Toronto, Barbados and suburban grounds around Sydney during his exile, this was a triumphant return to familiar surrounds.
"I know these conditions pretty well," Smith said with childlike enthusiasm between matches.
Heaps exciting to interview Steve Smith before the final of the NSW Premier Cricket T20 Final at the SCG. He was polite, friendly and ready to rip in. pic.twitter.com/EiagDQQsBC— Jack Clifton (@JackClifton90) December 16, 2018
But it was a continent away from where he would have been most comfortable.
At almost the exact same time as Smith removed his helmet to shake hands after Sutherland's semi-final win, Kohli was toasting his 25th Test hundred – a tally now two higher than Smith's – by making a talking gesture with his hand and pointing to his bat.
The world will have to wait patiently for Smith's response.