It is the ticks you inevitably watch. The quick dabs on the shirt and thigh pads. The taps with the bat, blue NB logo starbursting in the August sun. The admonishments, immediately after a mis-hit – not Tiger Woods-like, with expletives, but simple castigations in simple Sydney-ese. A wrap on the pad. An air-punch.
Steve Smith is at the crease. And he’s facing hellfire from Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes.
So what is it, you ask, as you sit behind the wicket on this Lord’s Saturday, crammed amongst the Kent supporters and the Emirates guests and the Surrey club members that makes Smith “arguably the World’s Best Batsman”? What we need to see now is how Smith’s cover drive compares with that of Garry Sobers, or whether his leg glance can live with the deft touch of David Gower.
At Lord’s, in today’s cauldron, it’s not happening in that vein. Instead, it’s a torrid morning of reflex-dips to the left or right, up and down, of dodging a red bullet searing upwards from a dusty, crumbling wicket.
He’s stung on the arm by a vicious climber. He flings off his gloves and helmet. The expression is still the Smith grimace – not of pain, you sense, but of impending doom that he might have to leave the field. The attendants are wrapping and spraying. Steve is flexing, then sheepishly grips the sky blue bat handle.
He carries on. He’s slightly less fluid, less agile, but still he picks off the easy ones. Aussie Grit.
But now he’s down, flat out, felled by another Archer bullet. He’s not moving. You think of Phil Hughes.
“That’s it, Joff! If you can’t get ‘im out, knock ‘im out!” cries the Kent guy. “Get up, ya sissy!” shouts the bloke behind me, spilling his second beer.
Smith stumbles off, in time, back to his mates and to the physio room. Lord’s is aglow. Forty minutes pass. Another wicket falls. The legendary white picket fence swings open. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Please welcome back to the crease Steve Smith!” He’s not 100 per cent; we know that now. The headaches would materialise later that night.
At this moment, though, Steve Smith has unfinished business. He squares up, arm bandaged, head throbbing, adrenalin flowing, ticks akimbo. He whacks one over mid-wicket, nearly for six. He peels one through covers for a svelte four.
Then, because he’s a bit head-scrambled, a bit stir-crazy, he pads-up when he should have been playing-back. The crowd explodes. A finger goes up.
It doesn’t matter now. The counter-punch has been levelled. He walks off, remembering as an after-thought to ask for a review. He doesn’t stick around even to watch it.
So now you get it. Being The World’s Best Batsman is also about courage and resilience and a single-minded, 4k-focused, Federer-like commitment to your chosen life.
About what we had just seen at Lord’s.