New Delhi: A certain Steve Smith has become the proverbial thorn in India's quest to conquer Australia. There seems to be no means for Indian bowlers to tame the Aussie skipper, even as Smith toyed with them once again in Perth two days ago.
Ahead of Friday's crucial second One-Day International match at Brisbane, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni will hope to inspire his bowlers to get Smith's wicket early, irrespective of batting first or second, and of course, the playing conditions.
Because, another Smith special certainly means a defeat for the tourists and a 0-2 deficit means winning the three remaining matches on the trot. With the world champions playing at their own den, it will be tough to achieve that feat.
The brilliance of Smith, who has a liking of Indian attack, helped Australia chase down a tough target of 309. And the availability of a steadily hand in former skipper George Bailey at the other end only proved that the skipper's job was easier. How Smith paced his innings after debutant Barinder Sran's double blow was a treat to watch.
So, the obvious question is: How to get him out early?
A cursory glance from any cricket enthusiast, with some basic understanding of stance and guard, will say that Smith is devoid of technique. A shuffling batting style, in what purists would often chide, makes the 26-year-old's case weaker, at least on the look.
But when it comes to application, Smith is right up there, alongside the greats of the game. Despite a seemingly flawed technique, the right-handed batsman has managed to score in abundance, especially when his team needs him the most.
This fact only tells one thing. Smith's talent! For, talent not always conform to the convention. His unorthodox style, coupled with the will to succeed, has made the New South Wales batsman a force in world cricket.
Now, all talks of unconventionalities and deviations have turned into an useless parenthesis when it comes to describing Smith's batting, especially against India.
For the record, against India, he has scored in a sequence of 162*, 52*, 133, 28, 192, 14, 117, 71, 47, 105, 149*. And these numbers sometimes read like adjectives. Seriously!
The answer, it seems, lies within the bowlers themselves. A bit more aggression will help, but again, Smith seemed immune to it. So the best way to get him out is keeping it simple, and wait for him to make mistakes. Every batsman makes mistakes.
Here, it's prerogative to mention some of the obvious flaws the imperious looking batsman lives with. Indian bowlers – with a genuine lack of pace – should try to work on the following:
Feed him on good length, outside off stump deliveries with some swing. The reason is simple, with his rather untypical shuffling stance and awkward defence, the swinging ball may end up getting a nick, or lucky enough, caught in front of the wicket.
Besides, his love for deliveries outside off stump is well documented. He will try to score off such deliveries, especially the ones shaping away. Why not let him play that shot more frequently, thus increasing the chance of getting him out at the same time.
Another way to get him out is by restricting the singles and twos. Force him to attack the bowlers. When in attacking moods, best of professionals commit silliest of mistakes. A mistimed shot, a loft here and there.
But trying him to coax for leg before traps or stumped will not be too wise, considering his proficiency in playing from the crease. Also, his hand and eye co-ordination is one of the best.
Yes, chances of spinners getting him out, at least in the current form, is rather bleak. But he at times tends to forget where his wickets are. And if such a moment arises, then the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with their straighters can get the prized wicket.
All in all, it will be down to MS Dhoni and how he utilises his resources, including field placements, inspired performances from his bowlers and some luck too.