Sydney: Steven Smith is proving to be the perfect under-study to his captain Michael Clarke both on and off the field.
Steven Smith celebrates his century against India yesterday. Pic/AFP
Yesterday, the 25-year-old first lived up to his captain's expectations having been promoted to the No 3 spot by scoring a stylish century — 105 off 93 balls (11 fours and two sixes) — as Australia posted a mammoth 328 against India in the World Cup semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, leading to a 95-run win for the hosts.
Then, at the post-match press conference, the man of the match nodded in affirmation to almost everything his skipper answered, almost in awe of his senior teammate. And 33-year-old Clarke returned the favour by appreciating his younger colleague in public. "Smithy was exceptional today. He's made the most of his opportunity. I can't speak highly enough for the way he's batting at the moment. He's showing his class," Clarke said.
Smith has not been a permanent No 3 in this Australian team. He came in at No 4 (vs England) and at No 5 (vs New Zealand) initially, and only got the one-drop slot after Shane Watson was dropped in the group game against Afghanistan at the WACA. Smith grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring an impressive 95 to cement his No 3 spot. He followed that up with a 72 against Sri Lanka before missing out on batting after being dropped down the order against Scotland.
Maiden ton for Smith
He then came up with a fine half-century (65) versus Pakistan in the quarter-finals before scoring his maiden World Cup ton on his home ground here, thus becoming only the fifth man to score a century in a World Cup semi-final after Graham Gooch, Saeed Anwar, Sourav Ganguly and Mahela Jayawardene.
Yesterday, Smith came to the crease when opener David Warner perished trying to hit out against pacer Umesh Yadav with the score reading 15-3 off 3.1 overs. His partner Aaron Finch was not in great shape at the other end having scored just one of 12 balls faced. However, an unflinching Smith took up the challenge and the lead in the partnership too.
Taking on India pacers
He got his eye in, sized up Yadav and Mohammad Shami in their next two overs and then launched into Yadav, hammering him for four consecutive fours in over number 10. He reached his half-century with a cautious single off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin but went after Shami in the 33rd over, jumping from 86 to 100 in just four balls (4, 0, 6, 4).
In what could next up be bad news for finalists New Zealand, Smith now wants another ton and a big one. "I hope to have more runs in the bank — a big hundred will be nice," he said with a smile.
> vs England: At No 4: 5
> vs Bangladesh: Match abandoned
> vs New Zealand: At No 5: 4
> vs Afghanistan: At No 3: 95
> vs Sri Lanka: At No 3: 72
> vs Scotland: Did not bat
> vs Pakistan: At No 3: 65
> vs India: At No 3: 105