SPOILER ALERT All of the great batsmen were basically flat-track bullies.
Australia’s most prolific batsman over the last 12 months, Steve Smith, has played like a novice. He is a flat-track bully on easy batting pitches but in six innings on the three Test-match pitches where the ball has moved laterally he has had a bad technique and he has shown poor shot selection and an inability to graft or work for runs. In those six innings he has scored 92 runs. Pathetic.
Geoffrey Boycott, Daily Telegraph, 8 August 2015
Australia’s captain Steven Smith only scores runs on good batting wickets.
He’s already one up on England’s batsmen then.
Being a flat-track bully is one of the biggest insults levelled at a Test batsman, as Steven Smith knows all too well.
His form during the 2015 Ashes defeat in England cemented Smith’s place as the paragon of flat-track bullies.
In the three Tests Australia lost, Smith scored 92 runs. In the two his side won – on batting-friendly wickets at Lord’s and the Oval – he scored 416.
Flat. Track. Bully?
Firstly, what is wrong with being a flat-track bully?
Most of the wickets in the world are flat-tracks. It swings in England. It turns on the sub-continent (but not always, and when it doesn’t, a saying to do with pancakes comes to mind). Elsewhere? Pretty flat.
Smith wouldn’t be much good at his job if he was marvellous at grinding out fifties at Galle and Trent Bridge, but couldn’t reach three figures in Adelaide.
Cricketing purists love to see an Athertonian grind in unfavourable conditions, but a batsman’s prerogative is to score as many runs as regularly as possible. If that means being a “flat-track bully” sometimes, good luck to you.
But is Smith even that much of a flat-track bully?
Let’s have a look at his statistics by country.
Steven Smith’s career summary
|in New Zealand||2||262||131.00||1||2|
|in South Africa||3||269||67.25||1||1|
|in Sri Lanka||3||247||41.16||1||1|
|in West Indies||2||283||141.50||1||1|
Unsurprisingly, Smith has played the majority of his Tests in Australia and England due to there seemingly having been an Ashes series every season in the past few years.
Though his sample sizes on the sub-continent are small, Smith averages 40+ all over the world, a figure that might surprise even the biggest Smith fan.
How does that compare to some of Test cricket’s greats, and Smith’s contenders to the crown of world’s best current batsman?
|in New Zealand||11||842||49.52||2||5|
|in South Africa||15||1,161||46.44||5||3|
|in Sri Lanka||12||1,155||67.94||5||4|
|in West Indies||10||620||47.69||1||5|
|in New Zealand||8||649||59.00||3||3|
|in South Africa||88||7,035||56.73||23||34|
|in Sri Lanka||5||318||35.33||0||3|
|in West Indies||12||942||55.41||3||5|
|in New Zealand||7||406||36.90||1||3|
|in South Africa||9||841||46.72||2||5|
|in Sri Lanka||4||706||100.85||3||1|
|in West Indies||65||6,217||58.65||17||26|
|in New Zealand||6||384||34.90||1||1|
|in South Africa||8||471||31.40||1||3|
|in Sri Lanka||5||435||48.33||1||3|
|in West Indies||8||652||54.33||2||5|
|in New Zealand||6||549||61.00||3||0|
|in South Africa||8||572||35.75||1||3|
|in Sri Lanka
|in West Indies||4||238||34.00||0||3|
|in New Zealand||2||214||71.33||1||1|
|in South Africa||2||272||68.00||1||1|
|in Sri Lanka||3||233||38.83||1||1|
|in West Indies||7||327||36.33||1||0|
|in New Zealand||21||1,788||54.18||4||12|
|in South Africa||4||127||21.16||0||1|
|in Sri Lanka||2||163||40.75||1||0|
|in West Indies||5||462||51.33||2||1|
|in New Zealand||3||88||17.60||0||0|
|in South Africa||4||386||55.14||1||3|
|in West Indies||3||358||89.50||1||2|
Sir Donald Bradman
With the exception of Tendulkar (and Bradman, obviously, who only played in England and Australia), all of the above batsmen average below 40 in at least one country.
It is no surprise that the great batsmen thrive in home conditions. As such, a flat-track for Sangakkara was not necessarily a flat-track for Lara. Does that mean that every great batsman is a flat-track bully deep down?
Who has the highest average in home conditions? (Qualification: Scored 10 or more centuries at home)
|DG Bradman (Aus)||33||4,322||98.22||18||10|
|CL Walcott (WI)||25||2,584||69.83||11||9|
|SPD Smith (Aus)||24||2,344||68.94||10||7|
|GS Sobers (WI)||44||4,075||66.80||14||12|
|Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)||32||3,067||65.25||12||11|
|MJ Clarke (Aus)||53||4,654||62.05||17||13|
|Javed Miandad (Pak)||60||4,481||61.38||14||17|
|MEK Hussey (Aus)||45||3,794||61.19||14||14|
|KC Sangakkara (SL)||75||6,830||60.44||22||25|
|DCS Compton (Eng)||47||3,963||60.04||13||18|
In short, yes, Steven Smith probably is a flat-track bully. A very good one. But none more so than some of history’s greats.
If Smith is a flat-track bully, so is Lara. And Root. And Kohli. And Kallis.
Let’s just rejoice in the runs.