Steven Smith: The myth of the flat-track bully

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.

Enough humour.

steve_smith_11705303043
“Please show on the doll where Steven scored runs against you.” (Credit: NAPARAZZI)

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

 Matches  Runs  Ave.  100  50
in Australia 24 2,344 68.94 10 7
in England   12 953 43.31 3 4
in India  2 161 40.25 0 1
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 UAE  2 174 43.50 0 2
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?

Sachin Tendulkar

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia 20 1,809 53.20 6 7
in Bangladesh  7 820 136.66 5 0
in England 17 1,575 54.31 4 8
in India  94 7,216 52.67 22 32
in New Zealand  11 842 49.52 2 5
in Pakistan  10 483 40.25 1 2
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 Zimbabwe  4 240 40.00 0 2

Jacques Kallis

 Matches  Runs  Ave. 100  50 
in Australia 15 1,254 48.23 3 6
in Bangladesh  2 63 31.50 0 0
in England  15 848 35.33 2 3
in India  9 760 58.46 3 2
in New Zealand  8 649 59.00 3 3
in Pakistan  5 582 83.14 3 2
in South Africa  88 7,035 56.73 23 34
in Sri Lanka  5 318 35.33 0 3
in UAE  4 335 55.83 2 1
in West Indies   12 942  55.41 3 5
in Zimbabwe  3 503 503.00  3 0

Brian Lara

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  19 1,469 41.97 4 4
in England 15 1,268 48.76 4 6
in India  3 198 33.00 0 2
in New Zealand  7 406 36.90 1 3
in Pakistan  7 626 48.15 2 1
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 Zimbabwe  2 222 55.50 1 0

Alastair Cook

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  15 1,288 49.53 4 5
in Bangladesh  4 431 61.57 2 1
in England 75 5,552 45.13 13 28
in India  13 1,235 51.45 5 4
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 UAE  6 609 55.36 1 3
in West Indies  8 652 54.33 2 5

Kumar Sangakkara

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  5 543 60.33 1 5
in Bangladesh  6 783 78.30 2 4
in England 11 862 41.04 2 5
in India  6 365 36.50 1 0
in New Zealand  6 549 61.00 3 0
in Pakistan  5 695 86.87 3 3
in South Africa  8 572 35.75 1 3
in Sri Lanka

in UAE

75

6

6,830

682

60.44

62.00

22

2

25

4

in West Indies  4 238 34.00 0 3
in Zimbabwe  2 281 140.50 1 0

Virat Kohli

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  8 992 62.00 5 2
in Bangladesh  1 14 14.00 0 0
in England 5 134 13.40 0 0
in India  25 2,023 57.80 6 9
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

Kane Williamson

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  5 500 55.55 2 1
in Bangladesh  2 250 83.33 1 2
in England 4 247 30.87 1 1
in India  7 461 35.46 1 3
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 UAE  3 261 52.20 1 0
in West Indies  5 462 51.33 2 1
in Zimbabwe 3 389 97.25 1 3

Joe Root

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia  4 192 27.42 0 1
in Bangladesh  2 98 24.50 0 1
in England 28 2,601 59.11 8 12
in India  6 584 53.09 1 5
in New Zealand  3 88 17.60 0 0
in South Africa  4 386 55.14 1 3
in UAE 3 287 57.40 0 3
in West Indies  3 358 89.50 1 2

Sir Donald Bradman

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
in Australia 33 4,322 98.22 18 10
in England 19 2,674 102.84 11 3

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)

 Matches  Runs Ave.  100  50 
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.

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