Steve Smith has Proved He's the Heir to The Don's Throne

Adeeb Asad

England v Australia - 5th Specsavers Ashes Test: Day Four

On the eve of February 2, 2010, a 20-year-old leg-spinner from Sydney took his first step in international cricket in a standalone T20I match between Australia and Pakistan at the MCG. He returned with figures of 2 for 34 in 4 overs in a low-scoring affair. Later that month, he would make his One-Day debut.

After picking three wickets in a rather dull Test debut vs Pakistan at Lord's on July 13th of the same year, Smith's nonchalant 77 would take Australia to a respectable third innings total. While that innings would be in vain, it announced the arrival of Steven Peter Devereux Smith

Smith, after a brief stint in international cricket, was dropped from the Australian squad in 2011. At the turn of the decade, any Australian spinner who surfaced faced the challenge of becoming the next Shane Warne. So did Smith. He, however, was not meant to take this road.

He would play the next two seasons of the Sheffield Shield as a batsman (788 runs in 20 innings with just 5 wickets) and was brought back to the side for the Tour of India in 2013 as a backup batsman. Being the improved player he had become, he would score 92 in his comeback innings at Mohali, and his first Test century in an Ashes series would follow soon after.

The 2013-14 Ashes Down Under, famous for the exploits of Mitchell Johnson, was the deciding phase of his career. While Australia were outplaying the English, there he was making the opportunities count. There was no stopping him. Be it England, South Africa, India, or the West Indies, it did not matter anymore.

The period between 2014 and 2017 was his. He scored more than 5,000 runs in 44 Tests at an average of over 75 with 21 centuries and 17 half-centuries. 'Bradmanesque' is the only word that came to mind. He scored runs against every opposition, on every kind of wicket, and against all kinds of bowlers. Once Aussie workhorses Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin retired from Tests in 2015, the captaincy went to Smith. But his reign would end in disgrace.

During a Test match against South Africa in March 2018, Smith would confess that Australia had cheated, tampering with ball to gain an advantage.

Australian Cricket Players Arrive In Sydney

The interview of a weeping Smith on the March 29, 2018, in Sydney is now cricket history. He said it hurt him to see 'his old man' being affected by the controversy. It also hurt cricket and Cricket Australia, even prompting the Australian Prime Minister to make a statement. All the three players involved were suspended -- Smith and David Warner for one year, and Cameron Bancroft for 9 months.

For most of his one-year ban, Smith wasn't allowed to play cricket at all. He spent time with his wife and family but the focus was always on returning to cricket. In January 2019, he played a few matches for Comilla Victorians in the BPL and then later played the IPL. He made his comeback in Australian colours in the World Cup with a couple of good knocks.

But the real test was yet to come. Ashes 2019, in England. When the Ashes started on August 1, Smith was booed. But by the end of the series, he had won the admiration of the crowd as one of cricket's finest ever Test batsmen.

In the first Test at Edgbaston, Australia were reeling at 122 for 8. Steve Smith made 144*, and followed it up 142 in the second innings. His stats for the series read: 4 matches, 7 innings, 774 runs at an average of 110.57 with 3 hundreds, 3 fifties, and a high score of 211. Bradman has 19 centuries in 63 innings in The Ashes. Steve Smith has 11 in 48 innings.

From continuing his innings at Lord's after being hit by Jofra Archer on the back of the head and missing three innings due to concussion, to making a double century at Old Trafford, it was Smith's return series.

Not that his record (23 centuries at an average of 61.38 in 64 matches) was poor before the 'Sandpapergate', but he seemed to be a different player. Playing with a strong bottom hand, Smith has a fantastic ability to find gaps at unusual angles. The way his mind works, how quickly he makes adjustments on and off the field, is impressive.

Although many will argue that Virat Kohli has been the best batsman in all formats, the determination and will that Smith showed during the Ashes after having served a one-year ban is beyond any comparison.