CAPE TOWN – As an ecstatic Steve Smith lifted the Ashes urn at the Sydney Cricket Ground earlier this month, comparisons to the previously incomparable Sir Donald Bradman abounded. And, for once, with good reason.
During the series, Smith scored 687 virtually chance-less runs at a scarcely believable average of 137.40, and there was no other realistic contender for the Compton-¬Miller medal, awarded for Player of the Series.
To that title he has added the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year. The accolade means the Australians have taken the award in four of the last five years.
Ravichandran Ashwin took the award last year, breaking that Australian dominance.
That Ashes series was merely the culmination of an incredible period of run-¬scoring for the Australian captain. In the qualification period from September 21, 2016 until the end of December 2017, he played in 16 Tests, scoring 1 875 runs at an average of 78.12, with eight hundreds and five half-centuries.
Perhaps even more impressive than his Ashes feats were his three centuries in four Tests in India during a pulsating series in which Smith faced more than a thousand deliveries.
In the Ashes, Smith scored 242 runs more than any of his teammates; in India that figure rose to more than 250. This is a man batting on a different plane from almost every other player on the planet.
Smith now averages 63.75 from 61 Tests, the second-best average of all time for those who have played more than 20 Tests, behind you know who.
In the ICC rankings he has climbed to 947 points, just 14 shy of Bradman’s high watermark of 961 and there is clear blue water between him and the other members of the “big four” - Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson.
Smith has been the world’s number one batsman for almost two years and is showing no signs of letting up.
His unique and idiosyncratic style has driven bowlers to distraction and his leadership of an improving Australian team had been marked by flair and the willingness to experiment.
No Australian has made as many runs in a calendar year as Smith did in 2017 (1 305) with a lower false shot percentage (7.2) since records began.
He averaged 111.20 against pace bowling (the highest of anyone dismissed more than once) and 54.50 facing spinners, with 54.9% of his runs scored on the leg-side, against an average for top six batsmen of 50.7%.
Smith beat off competition for the Test Cricketer of the Year from last year’s winner Ashwin, who took 111 wickets at 25.87, Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored 1 914 runs at 63.80, Kohli who led India to the top of the ICC Test team rankings as well as scoring 2 023 runs at 77.80, and Ben Stokes, who hit 1 000 runs at 40.00 and took 35 wickets at 27.68.
Smith said: “It’s a great honour to win the Test Player of the Year award. It’s called Test cricket for a reason and I’m very humbled to win that award.
“I’ve had a really good year - I think I’ve scored six hundreds in the year and more importantly led the team to an Ashes victory, which is something that is really important to me."
African News Agency (ANA)