On Tuesday, Steve Smith did something he had not done in his entire professional career. Steve Smith opened the batting along with Yashasvi Jaiswal for the Rajasthan Royals, a position where Jos Buttler would have occupied if available. And the absence of Buttler meant that Robin Uthappa was the closest contender. However, it was not to be and the skipper surprised most.
Out of the 170 innings that Robin Uthappa batted, the 71 appearances were at the opening spot, including winning an Orange Cap since 2014. There was little evidence suggesting against Uthappa opening and Smith promoting himself. But did it backfire? It did not and instead, his 47-ball 69 was as crucial as the onslaught dished out by Sanju Samson and Jofra Archer.
It was a knock that held the batting together, providing its own launchpad for a total of 216, which eventually proved a tad more for the opposition. When Sanju Samson holed out to deep cover, David Miller and Robin Uthappa were the only reputed and experienced batsmen in the line-up. As a set batsman, Smith could rotate the strike and keep the odd boundary coming.
With Miller’s unfortunate run-out at the non-striker’s end without facing a delivery and Uthappa’s failure to capitalize, it was up to Smith to provide the final flourish. There were six overs in the tank and Rajasthan Royals were still 50 runs away from the 200-run mark. The former Australian skipper might be a valuable addition to the T20 side; however, not tailor-made for the format. Hence, one would likely not back Smith to find the fences as frequently or without settling in.
The 69 in Sharjah was slightly an atypical one as Smith faced 22 deliveries during his century partnership with Sanju Samson, finding the fence six times. However, it was not an assault as Sanju Samson’s imposing presence on the crease was the talking point. It was Smith’s three sixes out of four to Samson’s seven during their power-packed partnership. The accumulator had a touch of malice attached, mainly due to Piyush Chawla serving some freebies.
Steve Smith to make way? But for whom and why?
Despite the enterprising knock from Smith, he was inevitably filling in for Buttler. With his exploits for the Rajasthan Royals and as Smith watched him pummelling the Australians recently, Buttler has booked the opening slot. And the captain understands that Buttler is incredible for that role and would be unfair to deny him the spot.
But where does that leave Steve Smith? As Gautam Gambhir pointed out, Buttler should be the skipper and the other three first-choice overseas slots must go to Miller, Ben Stokes, and Jofra Archer. With Buttler set to return for the next game, Miller will likely be the man axed from the batting department, which undoubtedly sounds harsh.
With little clarity as of now on the availability of Ben Stokes and if he does join the squad, does it become an option to leave Smith out? It indeed gives a lot for the think-tank to contemplate. Miller and Smith are batsmen of polarising approaches. The South African has proved he could hurt the opposition a lot more in the closing stages except that his performances have dipped since the 2013 and 2014 edition.
If Ben Stokes does become available, he is most likely to find a spot in the eleven as and when ready to play. Regardless of Stokes’ underwhelming display in the last two seasons, he brings in the cutting edge across facets. And it is something Rajasthan will need at some stage. Perhaps, even Tom Curran, Oshane Thomas, or Andrew Tye might cease to find a place. As for Smith, there is Samson in the line-up to play the anchor role and strike big at will as he displayed against Chennai Super Kings. But should the incumbent skipper relinquish the spot in the playing eleven? Probably not.
Steve Smith is one player who is more than just a batsman. In the aspect of captaincy, he is the most experienced amongst anyone in the Royals’ outfit and produced promising results and has a win percentage of 68% even though the sample size of matches he captained in is significantly less than the likes of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Gautam Gambhir. The results are there to see with the Rising Pune Supergiants, who came within inches of lifting the title in 2017 after finishing second last the year before. As a batsman, Smith might not be the quintessential T20 player; however, willingness, temperament, and self-belief remains his greatest strength and always will be.
He has proved on more occasions than one that unorthodoxy prevails over batsmen with conventional techniques. In 2017, Steve Smith, the captain, began his campaign in a highly promising manner, striking 84 against Mumbai Indians to nail the chase of 185. The aggregate of 472 runs made him the fourth-highest run-getter that season. In Sharjah, he hammered 69, flagging another fruitful edition for him. Again, as Gambhir pointed out, there is another way to make it happen, which is to rotate between Miller and Smith.
It prevents the inexperienced duo of Riyan Parag and Uthappa from performing as finishers. But as things stand at present, Stokes’ immediate availability remains in doubt. Even without the ace England all-rounder, Rajasthan Royals face a tussle between Smith and Miller. And the skipper could also likely drop himself from the eleven moving forward for a few games in the best interests of the team.