© Getty Images
© Getty Images

A captain is as good his team. However, barring Nathan Lyon, none of the Australians came even remotely close to what Steven Smith personified in 2017. He batted as if he owned the bat, stumps, balls, and more. He batted as if nothing existed beyond the ground, that whatever was alive within the circumference would perish to dirt if he gets out. And almost on cue, he ended as the highest run-scorer of the year, gathering 1,305 runs at 76.76.

The other predator was Lyon. He preyed on 63 victims at 23.55, the most by a bowler in 2017.

These two, Smith and his Lyon, resurrected Australia every time their supremacy was challenged. Smith is currently the second-best batsman to ever play Test cricket and Lyon is the best off-spinner in the history of the country.

Let’s stroll through Australia’s journey in 2017.

Warner starts 2017 with bang

Australia had already sealed the series 2-0. Misbah-ul-Haq often had his hand on his knees. And only the uncertainties of the game would befall Australia in the last Test at SCG.

That, however, is the freedom David Warner aches for. His team had nothing to lose, so he decided to cut loose. While doing so he became the first ever to score a century before lunch on any day of a Test in Australia. He remained unbeaten on 100 off 78 balls, eventually taking Australia to 22-run win.

Warner splashes more runs in colours

Warner scored another ton at SCG in ODIs against Pakistan, following his superior performance at Adelaide. His consecutive hundreds finished the series 4-1 in Australia’s favour.

Stoinis makes his mark

An overdose of cricket blended with different formats forced the selectors to rest Smith and his deputy Warner for the Chappell-Hadlee series in New Zealand.

Under Aaron Finch, Australia produced a nail-biter in the opening ODI of three-match series. After being throttled to 67 for 6, Marcus Stoinis weaved one of the most magical innings in limited-overs cricket. He cast a spellbinding innings of 146* off 117 and was left stranded when Josh Hazlewood was run out without facing a ball.

The second match was washed out, putting a dampener on Australia’s hopes in shorter formats. New Zealand won the third ODI, lifting the series 2-0.

One Australian team at home and the other in India

Australia boasted of their bench strength. Their second-string string squared off with Sri Lanka in T20Is while the Test squad was prepping for the gruelling Border-Gavaskar Trophy. How cool is it? It may be a bit troublesome for the management to handle logistics and other factors, but the cricket aficionados got the extra cricket meal to feast on.

The result, however, was not what Australia had dished out the simultaneous series for. Asela Gunaratne scooped 52 and 84* in the first two matches to help Sri Lanka fold the series 2-0. He failed in the final T20I, which prevented the whitewash.

Australia lose sight of Border-Gavaskar Trophy amidst brain fade

We reached the most awaited event of the year. India took on Australia in a four-Test spectacle. The predictions portrayed India, the No. 1 team, dominating Australia out of the contest. Ravichandran Ashwin was pitted as the wrecker-in-chief. Virat Kohli was etched to bury Australia under a pile of runs.

Nothing remotely close happened. From the shadows of Ashwin and Kohli emerged Steve O’Keefe with his twin 6 for 35 and Smith with his in-your-face 109. Australia humiliated India by 333 runs.

That, though, was that. India won the second Test, drew the third, and rose victorious in the third to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. No, the series was not as plain as narrated in the previous sentence.

“We have been inconsistent with the DRS, but we take our decisions on the field, we don’t ask for confirmation from the dressing room,” Kohli opened up on the Australians taking help from the dressing room for DRS. Smith, accepting the fault, doused the fire, “I got hit on the pad and looked down to Petey [Peter Handscomb] and he sort of said look up there (towards the dressing room), so I turned around and said what do you reckon. It was a bit of a brain fade on my behalf and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Ishant Sharma made a face that made him the meme of the year. He was trying to mock the unstoppable Smith. Then Kohli fell on his shoulder and was ruled out of the final Test. Glenn Maxwell was seen rubbing his shoulders to mock Kohli. Here, read this: Ishant becomes a meme, Australia nearly nails it, luck betrays Virat Kohli, but India win

Pay dispute distracts Australia from Champions Trophy

The English weather made sure Australia did not have a good time in the country. Australia’s first two matches were washed out, making the clash against England a must-win game. Ben Stokes then sniped out Australia from Champions Trophy with a hundred. While they were figuring out the reasons for their early departure, Cricket Australia dropped a pay-dispute bomb, fogging players’ senses.

If the demands for equal pay are not met, the players would go on a strike. The deadline was June 30 and most players did not have a contract, meaning they would be jobless thereafter. Warner mocked the board by posting this:

This is outstanding. Love the humour. @usman_khawajy can you help me.

A post shared by David Warner (@davidwarner31) on

 

Eventually, after distracting themselves from cricket, the board and players found a common ground and everyone’s been happy since.

The tigers hunt down the kangaroos

England had lost a Test against Bangladesh in 2016. Yes, these things happen in cricket. If a team has Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, such things will keep happening in cricket.

Australia needed 264 to win on a territory that gives nightmares to their batters. Lucky were they that Warner launched an attack. He blasted 112 off 135 balls, his first hundred in the subcontinent. The match, however, is remembered for different reasons: Bangladesh registered their maiden win against Australia. Shakib took 10 wickets and Tamim scored 149 runs in the match to down Australia by 20 runs.

But, for the reputation that Australia carry, they avenged the loss and humbled Bangladesh by 7 wickets in the second Test to level series 1-1. Warner scored another hundred while Lyon finished with 13 wickets in the Test. Smith finished the series with an average of 29, the second-worst in his career. Unfortunately, he made England pay for it.

Australia revisit India only to face another defeat

Warner’s successful year was eclipsed mostly because of Smith and Lyon’s spectacular performances. After Australia lost the first 3 ODIs of the five-match series, Warner’s hundred gave Australia a consolation win before they lost the final match. He replaced the injured Smith as captain in T20Is to level three-match series 1-1 thanks to a searing spell from Jason Behrendorff.

Australia rise in The Ashes

Mitchell Starc was back to the grind. There is always Hazlewood to throttle the opposition with his nagging line and length. Pat Cummins has serious pace.

Then there are Warner, Smith, and Lyon to save them from trouble. However, Australia still had left chinks in their armour.

Shaun Marsh, who had scored 2 fifties in 8 innings against India, was not part of the team that had toured Bangladesh. His brother Mitchell had played last against India at Bengaluru in March. Usman Khawaja, who was not drafted in the playing XI against India, scored 2 against Bangladesh. Tim Paine would play his first Test in seven years. And Cameron Bancroft would make his debut.

How would Australia regain the urn? Here’s how.

Smith scored 141* at Brisbane. From 76 for 4, he lifted Australia to 328. Starc took 6 wickets in the match. Australia won by 10 wickets to take 1-0 lead.

Shaun Marsh scored 126* at Adelaide. From 209 for 5, he lifted Australia to 410. Starc took 8 wickets in the match. Australia won by 120 runs to take 2-0 lead.

Smith scored 239 and Mitchell Marsh 181 at Perth. Together they added 301 runs. Hazlewood took 8 wickets in the match. Australia won by an innings and 41 runs, and that’s how they regained the urn.

Australia then ended the year by drawing the fourth Test, courtesy Smith’s 23rd hundred.

The Smith phenomenon

We cannot round up the review without going through Smith’s numbers.

- Smith completed 1,000 Test runs in a year for fourth successive time, surpassing Brian Lara and Kevin Pietersen. Only Matthew Hayden had achieved it five times.

- Smith scored 21 hundreds since 2014, that is, 5.25 hundred per year. He went past Hayden and Ricky Ponting who had smashed 19 hundreds in 4 years.

- Smith now has 947 points, two points more than England’s Len Hutton (945) in ICC’s retrospective Test ratings. Only Don Bradman (961) is ahead.

- Smith has the second-highest Test average 63.55 (batsmen with at least 20 Test innings). He is, again, only behind Bradman’s 99.94.

Summary

Smith has been so extraordinary that you do not want to talk about Australia’s performances before The Ashes. That being said, Australia will have to chalk out a plan to soar up in Tests as they lie at the fifth spot in ICC Test Rankings.

Although they had a forgetting outing in 2017 Champions Trophy and lost the ODIs to India, their third place in the format is evidence that the world champions are still a force to reckon with.

In T20Is, however, they have a long way. The seventh spot is not where they belong.

That was that: Australia in 2017.

Quote of the year

“I don’t actually like watching cricket that much.” – Steven Smith.