A sore hand may have to prompt run machine Steve Smith to slightly alter his technique come Boxing Day but the man labelled ‘s best batsman since Sir Donald Bradman will head into the Melbourne Test with a record the Don would have doffed his hat at.
The n captain declared on Monday he was a certain starter to face England at the MCG, having been inadvertently struck on the right hand by a shot from teammate Cameron Bancroft at training on Sunday. The freak accident saw the ball ricochet off the nets and strike Smith on the hand.
“It is a little bit sore. It’s more the back of my hand … [I] copped a few in the nets in Perth and a few more in the game. It just seems to be whenever you are getting hit in a spot, it just continually gets hit,” he said.
“Yesterday’s [Sunday] was a little bit bizarre – obviously, the ball came over the nets and [I] didn’t see it. Someone said: ‘Heads’ and I sort of just tried to put my head down and, of course, it hit me in the same spot. It was a little bit sore playing a few shots after that and a little bit sore today playing a few shots as well. I will be able to deal with it and get on with it.”
Smith said the soreness may prompt a slight technical change, where he will have to “use a bit more of my top hand throughout this game – a bit less wristy”.
The injury, however, didn’t stop him from batting in the nets on Christmas Day and later sending down leg-spinners to Shaun Marsh during a light run by the ns, many with their families on hand.
Smith would never want to miss a Test, particularly in Melbourne which has emerged as his most prolific venue. In five Tests on the drop-in wicket, he has 638 runs at 127.6 – but it’s been his performances in the past three years which could have the tourists fretting even further in a summer where he has already hijacked their plans to subdue and dismiss him.
He has a stunning 575 runs at an average of 287.5 in his past five innings in Melbourne, and has been dismissed only twice in five innings. He thumped 192 and 14 against India in 2014, was undefeated twice against the West Indies a year later while making 134 and 70, and backed up last year with an undefeated 165 after a sluggish Pakistan had declared their innings closed.
The MCG typically yields plenty of runs in the Sheffield Shield, to the point three draws this season have put the heat on new curator Michael Salvatore, although there could be more grass on the deck come the start of play in a bid to ensure there is a result.
Smith said he enjoyed the local conditions and atmosphere that came with a marquee fixture set to open before more than 90,000 fans on Tuesday.
“Probably a bit of everything. The wicket has been pretty good, pretty flat the last few years and looks much the same this year. I think it was ready to go three days ago. It’s a wicket that hasn’t really broken up much over the last few years. It’s stayed pretty good for five days so, hopefully, I can cash in again this week,” he said.
“It looks pretty flat. It doesn’t look as if there will be a great deal of sideways movement, maybe a bit of reverse swing as the game goes on. It looks a pretty flat wicket at this stage.”
Bradman’s most prolific n venue was also the MCG. The sport’s greatest batsman stroked 1671 runs at 128.5 (more than his immortal career average of 99.94) in 11 Tests here, including nine centuries.
The MCG was the only venue where he made two centuries in the same Test – against India in 1947-48, when he made 132 and 127 not out – and all this at a venue he said was not one of his favourites.
“The light was harsh, not nearly as soft as Adelaide, the wind swirling around the huge stands was unpredictable, the turf was extremely hard on the feet, whilst on a hot day it could be stifling in that cauldron,” Bradman once said.
For Smith, that appears to be far from the case, and there is every chance he will again show that in a summer when he has crunched 426 runs at 142, and is coming off a series-defining 239 in Perth which sparked debate as to whether he was ‘s best batsman since Bradman.
England captain Joe Root said the tourists had discussed new tactics in a bid to topple his counterpart.
“We have, obviously, discussed a few different things we can try. We have a tried quite a lot this series so far, anyway,” he said.
“He has had two very good Test matches. We definitely got on top of him in Adelaide. It showed how when we can get the ball moving we can be a very dangerous attack. Hopefully, that is something we can manage this week.”
STEVE SMITH’S GREAT ADVENTURE
Venue Tests Runs Ave 100 50
Adelaide 5 455 65 1 3
Brisbane 5 575 71.87 3 1
Hobart 2 89 44.5 0 0
SCG 5 465 66.42 2 3
WACA 5 607 67.44 3 0
MCG 5 638 127.6 3 1
SMITH’S PAST THREE TESTS AT THE MCG
2014 v India: 192 and 14
2015 v West Indies: 134no and 70no
2016 v Pakistan: 165no
Total: 575 runs at 287.5