MELBOURNE – Steve Smith’s pull to the Melbourne Cricket Ground fence to bring up the winning runs for Australia yesterday was a fitting ending for a player who was instrumental in his team’s campaign for a fifth World Cup triumph.
Smith, heir apparent to captain Michael Clarke, shared a poignant 112-run stand with the retiring skipper, who bowed out with a team-high 74 after driving Australia to the brink of victory over New Zealand in his final one-day international.
While sentimentalists may have hoped for Clarke to push his team over the line, the 33-year-old’s exit to a standing ovation from the 93 000-strong crowd was itself a moving image, with Smith left to carry the baton.
Smacking seamer Matt Henry for four to complete a seven-wicket rout, Smith tore off his helmet and bounded in the air for joy, a suitable celebration for the baby-faced 25-year-old.
Unbeaten on 56, he was quick to credit his team mates in a captain-like debriefing.
“Unbelievable feeling, we said we wanted to play our best game towards the end of the tournament and to win this final three (wickets) down, I thought the boys were outstanding tonight,” Smith said in a pitchside interview. “The bowlers really set it up for us. They’ve done it all tournament.”
Smith could also lay a big claim to sealing Australia’s triumph, with his 402 runs at an average of 67 the highest tally of their batsmen in the tournament.
Brushing off a total of nine runs from his first two innings of the tournament, he finished with five consecutive scores above 50, including a match-winning 105 in the semi-final to send reigning champions India spinning out of the tournament.
Improbably, only months before the World Cup, the he was barely part of the World Cup conversation, still fighting for his place in a team laden with batting talent.
He had long cemented his place in Australia’s formidable test side, but had to punish South Africa’s world class attack in a lead-up series to truly put himself in the frame.
With Clarke injured in the first test against India in December, Smith stepped up to lead the team to a 2-0 series win, blasting four consecutive centuries to confirm his standing as one of the very best batsmen in the world.
With a successor yet to be named, Clarke was mindful of stepping on selectors’ toes, but endorsed Smith’s leadership from the front at the tournament.
Having had an invaluable apprenticeship, Smith is likely to play a big part in defending Australia’s title at the 2019 World Cup in England.
“I thought it was a fitting farewell for Pup,” he said. “I wish he was there with me at the end.” – Nampa/Reuters