Steve Smith's long link to Surrey - Kia Oval Skip to main content

While England and Australia prepare to join battle at The Kia Oval in the final Ashes Test of an unforgettable series, Steve Smith is in sight of a remarkable record at this special venue in south London. Richard Spiller explains the upcoming milestone and how Smith’s links with Surrey go much further.

When Australia arrive at The Kia Oval for the final Ashes Test, Steve Smith will have a personal target within reach beyond the drama of the Ashes.

The 34-year-old has scored 546 runs in four Test matches at the ground – his century against India in the World Test Championship final the latest of three – which has left him seven runs behind Sir Donald Bradman as the leading overseas run scorer in SE11.

Bradman’s 553 at 138 came from four Tests although in the last of them he suffered the most famous duck in cricket history, bowled second ball by Eric Hollies on his farewell to cricket. Smith’s 546 (at 91) included his maiden ton in 2013, a huge landmark in the career of a player who had spent three years around the fringes of Australia’s team, drafted in originally as a leg-spinner cum middle-order batter. He had only been added late to the squad for that Ashes series, having been denied a central contract, and was running out of opportunities given his average of 25.

All that feels like ancient history for a player who began the current Ashes averaging 60 and is now regarded by many as being second only to Bradman as an Australian run machine.

Yet Smith’s links with Surrey go further back – six years earlier, in 2007, he had played twice for the county’s second team and was offered an opportunity to stay longer.

Alan Butcher, Surrey’s head coach in 2005-08, said: “He was clearly a good cricketer. He had a British passport and we wanted to sign him. But he went back to Australia and, let’s face it, that’s a better place to bowl leg-spin than England.”

Smith was playing club cricket for Kent side Sevenoaks and his first outing for Surrey was against Derbyshire in the Second XI Championship on June 11-13, his 46 in the first innings was the second-highest score behind Rory Hamilton-Brown’s 57 as Surrey were dismissed for 280.

Derbyshire’s 432-8 in reply owed much to Australian international Ian Harvey making 136, who was one of Smith’s four victims in 22.5 overs which cost 100. When the visitors batted again, Smith made another 46, helping skipper Stewart Walters (51) extend their second innings to 208. Another key contribution came from young pacer Stuart Meaker, who finished 30no after being drafted into the side during the match, rain ending any chance of a Derbyshire win when they reached 26-0.

Stuart Meaker: “It was obvious Steve was pretty talented but Australia’s greatest run scorer of the age? Back then he was being talked about maybe as the next Shane Warne, who had only retired the previous winter. We had Ian Salisbury as our number one leg-spinner. Steve bowled a bit and came in down the order.

“He was certainly talented but it would have been hard to imagine quite how far he kicked on. One of the things that stood out about him is that I’ve never seen anyone hit the ball as hard. When he was playing for Eastern Suburbs in Sydney grade cricket, he would have nets at the SCG with his dad and you wanted to watch it.

“I must admit that the only thing I can remember about the Derbyshire game was hitting someone on the head!”

With students returning from university, Smith was not called upon again until the trip to play Essex at Coggeshall on July 18-20.

There he had to watch openers Chris Murtagh (70) and Matt Spriegel (67) put on 134, Alistair Brown thumping 96 and Arun Harinath (58) helping him add 137 for the fourth wicket. When Smith got in, he took advantage of a tiring attack to crack 46no off 18 balls, striking three fours and five sixes to hasten a declaration at 392-6.

Arun Harinath: “He was regarded as a leggie who batted when he came to us and probably batted a bit further down the order than he’d have liked but we had a pretty strong side.

“As a batsman, he was probably a bit more classical back then – he clearly had a great work ethic. He was a good lad to be around and really loved his cricket. He had great coordination and it was clear that being a professional cricketer was something he was going to do.”

Chris Murtagh:What stood out for me was the way he was hitting sixes over cover and extra-cover. Amazing shots. I’d not met him before the game and only knew he was playing for Sevenoaks for the summer. He batted in his own style and I was quite happy fielding at silly point to him when he was bowling.

“Could I see him scoring all those Test hundreds at that stage? No, but it was clear he had an incredibly good eye and his hands were amazing.”

Smith’s 20 overs earned him 0-57 in Essex’s first innings of 250-5dec – led by future England bat Tom Westley’s 77 – and then he had to sit and watch Murtagh (100no) and Spriegel (85no) put on an unbroken 188 in 44 overs before the third declaration of the match.

Set 330 for victory, Essex finished on 288-6, Spriegel’s off-spin netting 4-36 but Smith going unrewarded as his 12 overs cost 63.

Butcher had seen enough to want more and kept tabs on Smith’s progress: “We kept in touch with how he was going and I spoke to Thorpey [Graham Thorpe], who was coaching at NSW at the time to monitor the situation.

Smith’s decision to stay down under paid dividends although his success was far from overnight:

Murtagh: “He could have stayed here but in his heart, he was Australian, so fair enough.”

Meaker: “Surrey offered him a pretty decent contract and because he had an English family he could have played here but New South Wales wanted him back. And he’s Australian, after all.”

Harinath: “Fortunately for him, he took the option of playing for New South Wales and it worked out for him.”

Butcher: “The early stages of his Test career weren’t that special. He didn’t have a great technique but what he does works for him. He plays some amazing shots and that says a lot about his hand-eye coordination.”

Murtagh: “He’s got a unique style and early on he would nick off a few times to the moving ball. He’s still got quite a lot of cricket in him if he wants it, and it will be interesting to see whether he can keep up that incredible record.

“Even great players like Hayden and Ponting have seen their career averages dip a bit towards the end. Maybe that will happen to him, maybe not, but he stands head and shoulders above just about everyone apart from Bradman.”