By Shaun Giles
Australia’s Steven Smith and India’s captain Virat Kohli are widely considered the best two batsmen in the world. (AP: Tsering Topgyal)
Almost fifty matches. That’s how many internationals Steve Smith will miss after accepting his year-long punishment for his role in the ball-tampering scandal.
Whether he misses cricket more than cricket misses him remains to be seen but one major loser is sure to be the cricket fan.
Ponder this: Two players — Australia’s Steve Smith and India’s Virat Kohli — at the peak of their game, widely considered the best two batsmen in the world.
In fact, at the time of publication they sit number one and two respectively on International Cricket Council’s Test batting rankings.
One is a 28-year-old leader who averages 61 at Test level.
Add to that 23 centuries in just 64 matches and you’re talking about a rare breed of player.
His arch-rival has the stats too. Kohli has notched 21 centuries in 66 matches at an average of 53.4.
This 29-year-old leads a nation where cricket is all but a religion.
These two players also have history. Lots of it.
This summer their respective nations will meet for a Test series that rivals the Ashes — Australia versus India for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
It’s a tantalising plot, albeit one that won’t play out.
Smith has accepted his 12-month playing ban for ball tampering during a Test against the Proteas and will play no part in the 2018-2019 series.
After an episode drenched in theatrics in South Africa, it will be akin to fans asked to pay top dollar for a Broadway show whilst knowing the lead role will be played by an understudy.
And with the first-choice substitute in David Warner also on a 12-month hiatus for his role in the cheating scandal, Kohli is poised to star in a one-man show.
This summer, Cricket Australia’s (CA) mantra of “putting fans first” will be clearly tested.
Peter Handscomb versus Kohli or Tim Paine versus Kohli doesn’t hold the same gravitas.
Forget reverse swing, CA will now need a spin doctor or two to sell the series, the summer and the team.
Motives aside, 12 months without Smith is not good for CA in its strategic plan to be “number one in all formats”.
Curiously there is no mention of “integrity” or “upholding the spirit of the game” in CA’s overarching strategy.
Here’s what it means, by way of matches and statistics, for an Australia without Steve Smith until March 2019, or 48 international matches.
A year without Steve Smith by the numbers
Steve Smith: Test average: 61.37 (77.25 at home) | ODI: 41.84 (53.47) | T20I: 21.55 (19.80)
- 5 ODIs v England (away). Smith’s average surprisingly drops to just over 30 in ODIs against the old enemy, with the bat.
- 1 T20I v England (away). He sat out Australia’s last T20 International series (versus England and New Zealand) to prepare for the ill-fated tour of South Africa. That was good a result for the English given he averages a tick under 60 against them in this format.
June and July 2018
- 1 Test v Zimbabwe (away). It’s been a long time since Australia and Zimbabwe have played Test cricket. 2003, in fact, when Smith was just 14 and was still seven years off his Test debut. Matthew Hayden’s score of 380 against Zimbabwe — the highest score by an Australian batsman in Test cricket history — looks safe.
- 3 ODIs Zimbabwe (away). Only two ODI matches between 2011 and 2014 has netted Smith just 12 runs at an average of six.
August and September 2018
- 2 Tests v Bangladesh (home). On paper this doesn’t look like much, but Smith would’ve been desperate to atone for the last time these two nations met in Bangladesh when the Test series finished at one-all. Having not played Bangladesh in a home Test series, he’d be keen to build on his modest average of 29.75. Of all the nations Smith has played against at Test level, Bangladesh is the only country he’s yet to score a century against.
- 3 ODIs v Bangladesh (home). A poor average of 14 from just four matches with a highest score of 22 not out.
- 5 ODIs v Pakistan (away). Good news for Pakistan. Bad news for Australia, Smith averages more than 55 against Pakistan in ODIs, almost 14 runs more than his career average.
- 1 T20I v Pakistan (away). An average of just under 18 for Smith against Pakistan in the shortest format of the game.
October and November 2018
- 5 ODIs v South Africa (home). Recent history aside, Smith enjoys the challenge against the Proteas and boasts an ODI average of almost 44 against them.
- 3 T20Is v South Africa (home). At 21.5, it’s almost a carbon-copy of his T20I career average.
November 2018 — January 2019
- 4 Tests v India (home). Yes, this is where it really hurts as his overall Test average rockets from 61 to a staggering 84 against India.
- Perth’s new stadium is almost certain to host one of these Tests and Smith misses out on captaining his side for this historic event.
- 2 Tests v Sri Lanka (home). While Cameron’s Bancroft’s nine-month suspension ends ahead of this series, Smith will still be watching on. His average of 41 against Sri Lankan is modest, by his lofty standards, but it’s still a very healthy output.
- 3 ODIs v Sri Lanka (home). Smith average against Sri Lanka in ODIs is 33.
- 5 ODIs v India (away). This time Indian fans will lose out on a Kohli v Smith match-up. Smith’s ODI average against the Indians is more than 50.
- 2 T20Is v India (away). Just an average of 12 against India for a man that was set to make 2.4 million in this year’s IPL T20 competition.
- 3 Tests v Pakistan (away). An average of 17.8 is slightly below his overall T20I average of 21.55.