“That’s what makes him the best in the world … [he’s] one step ahead,” said Steve Smith’s batting partner Marnus Labuschagne after sharing a 116-run fourth Test stand with the former Australian captain.
But for all those claiming Smith’s latest brilliant knock of 211 makes him “better than Bradman”, it might be best to sit down and have a good old-fashioned 1930s Bex.
If you search on the internet for “Smith and Bradman”, you’ll find any number of articles from the past few years – with only a short hiatus during the ball-tampering debacle – that propose Smith as the successor to Don Bradman’s towering legacy.
But if you’re proposing the ABC change it’s Bradman inspired GPO Box number from 9994 – the Don’s famous Test average minus a middle full point – the Smith boosters would do well to note that the new ABC address would be GPO Box 6464.
It’s good. It’s even better than that when you consider that, in Test cricket history, only a select dozen or so have touched the 60 average – but it’s unlikely to ever be Bradmanesque.
Plenty of batsman have had solid averages at the peak of their powers, but the average tends to drop off the more Tests they play, hence why 50 is a good cut-off point when assessing batting averages.
Australia’s Greg Chappell finished up with 53.86 after 87 Tests, while Ricky Ponting has 51.85 after a remarkable 168 Tests.
Bradman himself only managed 52 Tests, but in those matches snared 29 centuries. Smith currently has 26 tons from 67 Tests.
Ponting himself says no one will ever match Bradman’s raw numbers. But, he says, Smith is well on his way to becoming the best behind cricket’s batting touchstone.
“Even what Smithy is doing now is remarkable. To think how good Bradman must have been to be a third again better than what Steve Smith’s doing at the moment is ridiculous,” Ponting told cricket.com.au this week.
“If he keeps playing and plays as much as we think he can play – he’s in his early 30s now, he’s got four, five, six years of good cricket ahead of him … that’s probably another 80, 90 Test matches.
“Then he’s played 150 games and could have all sorts of numbers and records by then and let’s hope he does, because the way he’s going about it now, the way he’s playing he deserves to get the rewards from that.
You don’t always get those things in life but what he’s doing he deserves to go down as one of the greats.”
With the best Test average way out of reach, what Bradman records might yet be in Smith’s sights?
Smith now has 11 centuries in Ashes Tests. Bradman’s 19 is likely to bested given the new boy has plenty more matches to come against England in his career.
Smith is the fifth Australian to score three centuries in an Ashes series in England. Bradman, Charlie Macartney, Arthur Morris and David Boon are the others in that select club. He’ll give that one a shake too before he’s done.
Smith’s 211 at Manchester also marked the fourth occasion that he has scored three or more centuries in a Test series. Only Bradman and Garfield Sobers – who both managed the feat in five series – are ahead of him on that measure.
Given Smith was all but knocked out of the last Test, his triumphant return to Manchester has also added some old-fashioned bravery shine to his image.
Wearing an arm guard and neck guard at Old Trafford, the famously superstitious batsman said they were likely to become part of his routine.
“I guess I got used to it pretty quick,” the world’s top-ranked batsman admitted of the neckguard.
“I never really gave it a chance in the nets. I’d wear it for 10 balls and if I got out or something I’d say, ‘nah this isn’t working’ and get rid of it.
“I walked in [to the rooms after getting out] and I told the doc ‘the StemGuards are good to stay now and my arm guard’s probably good to stay as well’.
“I got a bit of a laugh from the boys out of that because they know how strange I am … I’m pretty superstitious with different things.”
Smith suggested he noticed the neck guard a couple of times during his marathon innings. But it obviously didn’t affect the right-hander, based on the freedom in which he scored.
Given he has tallied 1419 runs at 141.9 from his past 12 Test innings against England, now even bouncing Smith out seems a forlorn hope for the home side.
Australia’s bowlers will resume the attack on Friday night with England 1-23 after Australia declared at 8-497.
As for Smith, he’s clearly the best since Steve Smith.