Australian cricket legend Ricky Ponting has used the latest episode of The ICC Review to dissect Steve Smith’s current form, predict who has the best chance of usurping England’s Joe Root as the top-ranked red ball batter and voice his opinion about the current World Test Championship race.
Ponting has been keeping a close eye on Smith’s recent fate at the test level and has not noticed too much difference in the way the right-hander approaches the game.
But he says the opposition parties have worked out smarter plans to fight Smith and the former Australia captain only recently broke an 18-month drought without a century when he hit triple digits in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.
Steve Smith’s form
While Smith has 28 Test centuries to his name for Australia, only two have come since England’s Ashes series in 2019 and his unbeaten 145 against Sri Lanka earlier this month marked the first time he’s tripled. reached his brilliant 100 against India in early 2021.
Smith has scored seven half-centuries in that span, and Ponting said the 33-year-old doesn’t consistently get as many high scores as he’d like.
“The best way to describe it is that it (Smith’s form) has been indifferent,” Ponting told Sanjana Ganesan on The ICC Review.
“Over four or five years he’s been so incredibly consistent, consistently making high scores, making four, five or six hundred in a calendar year of a test match and he hasn’t been able to do that in recent years.
“I’ve been watching him very closely and I don’t think technically anything has changed too much.
“Against the opposition they may have finally started figuring out how to slow him down to score quickly or have found a way to attack him and get him out.
“But knowing Steve, how well he prepares and how deeply he thinks about his game, I don’t think it will be too long before you see him score heavily there again.”
Is Joe Root’s mantle as the No. 1 test batter in jeopardy?
Root was recently rewarded for his superb red ball form when he overtook Australian Marnus Labuschagne as the top-ranked Test batter, but there are plenty of key batters around the world lining up to overtake the Englishman.
England have three friendlies against South Africa next month, where Root will have a chance to extend his lead at the top of the batsman rankings, but after that they won’t play red ball cricket until they tour New Zealand in February next year. .
That means Labuschagne and Smith will have plenty of opportunities to gain ground on the right-handers in form, with Australia hosting the West Indies and South Africa for a total of five exhibition games on home soil during their coming summer.
“Yeah, possibly (both Labuschagne and Smith could catch up to Root this summer),” Ponting said.
“Both guys have excellent records in Australia. Looking back on last week, it was Marnus’ first hundred (against Sri Lanka) outside of Australia.
“That said, it’s in Australia in recent years where Smith has had the most problems.
“Marnus recently said it might just be the opening of the floodgates for Steve Smith.
“I think it’s been 16-17 innings for him without a Test 100 – that doesn’t happen too often.
“Joe Root has been quite the opposite. Every time he has started batting in the last 18 months or two years he has made a hundred, especially against India. His record against India is absolutely outstanding.
“One thing I know is that his class is permanent.
“Whether it’s Smith or Labuschagne or even Virat, when he returns to his best form of his career, any of those guys – and Babar Azam is another – could catch up with Root in the coming months.”
Race for final World Test Championship warm up
South Africa currently leads the World Test Championship standings, but Australia is close behind them in second place after their recent draw against Sri Lanka away from home.
Pakistan, India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka are also in contention to finish in the top two of the standings and reach the final, with Ponting stressing the importance of Australia’s tour of India early next year as the pivotal series that will the finalists can decide.
“I think Australia’s chances really depend on the Indian tour coming up, to be honest and India’s chances are kind of the same,” Ponting noted.
“It’s always a highly anticipated series – Australia and India, be it in Australia or in India – it’s a lot hyped and talked about, the rivalry between the two countries is just growing year after year.
Who else can take part in the World Test Championship final?
Ponting suggested that South Africa has been the surprise package of the Test World Championship so far, with the Proteas having had success against India and Bangladesh, one of their five Test wins, during this current period.
“South Africa has been a standout so far,” Ponting said
“Their record at home is absolutely excellent, they are a very difficult team to beat at home, as we have just seen with Sri Lanka.
“A bit of doom and gloom in Sri Lankan cricket over the last couple of years, but to sit where they are and to beat a good Australian squad in that test match from just over a week ago, there are a lot of real good, positive signs for the future.
“Pakistan’s ability to be there all the time and be talked about because they haven’t played much international cricket for such a long time shows how passionate they are about the game and how many really great players that country has year after year can produce.”