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The Evolution Of Australian Captain Steve Smith, Batting Genius

'He was batting so well, bowlers were telling the captain they didn't want to bowl. I've never seen that.'

15/12/2016 10:50 AM AEDT | Updated 15/12/2016 11:24 AM AEDT

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Steve Smith is well on his way to becoming one of Australia's best ever batsmen.

"It was carnage. It was next level. The whole opposition team was saying 'this is ridiculous'. It was the first time I have ever seen bowlers tell their captain 'no, I don't want to bowl.'"

No, that was not the New Zealanders talking about Steve Smith's batting in the recent One Day series, though it clearly could have been.

In fact, the quote comes from club cricketer Matt Hughston, and refers to a remarkable innings in the summer of 2009/2010, when the then 20-year-old Smith was yet to debut for Australia.

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It's incredible to think that Smith was originally picked for Australia for his bowling. This is him on debut at Lord's when he took three wickets and made just 12 and 1 with the bat. He looks very much the boy among men.

Between state duties for NSW that summer, Smith squeezed in a handful of matches for his Sydney club side Sutherland. In one of those matches, he bludgeoned 134 off 67 balls against Mosman.

"SCARY... the kid is not normal... the most brutal innings I have witnessed," wrote team captain Matthew Hughston of the day's ballistics on page 28 of the club's annual report.

The Huffington Post Australia contacted Hughston this week. We wanted to know more about that "scary, not normal" performance, about the evolution of a batting genius, and also, a little more about the person who is Australia's 45th Test captain.

Unlike his predecessors Michael Clarke and (to a lesser extent) Ricky Ponting, Smith is not a divisive figure as Australian captain. People generally like the way he plays and the way he carries himself. But what do we really know about him? Who is Steven Peter Devereux Smith? And how did he get so good?

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He's a lead-by-example kind of guy.

Let's go back to that match at the Allan Border Oval in Mosman back in the summer of 2009/10. We'll let Matt Hughston -- a more than handy batsman himself -- pick up the story.

"We were chasing about 200 off 50 overs and we ended up getting it in 24 overs. Victory was inevitable from a long way out. With about 20 runs to get, this poor left arm leg-spinner comes on, and Steve hits his first ball straight over his head for six. It was a no-ball too, which meant he had a free hit next ball.

"Smithy looks at me and turns around to a left handed batting stance. I thought he was just taking the piss, but a few guys from dressing room yelled 'go for it'. The umpire put his hand out and said 'what's going on?' and Smithy said 'yep, I'm doing it'.

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He basically plays a mix of baseball, tennis and cricket. Let's call it Smithball.

"He murdered it. The ball went straight over square leg for six and their whole team went 'that's ridiculous', and it was. It was next level. He's just different to us. You could see it as clear as day then, and he's he even further in front now."

Smith debuted in first grade for Sutherland when he was just 16. First grade is one level below state level cricket and it's serious stuff. A typical side has a mixture of talented cricketers playing for the love of the game, and guys with dreams of higher honours. It's an imposing environment for any 16-year-old.

What Smith did in his first match shocked everybody. At one point in his innings, Smith hit a six, then blocked the next ball. The bowler then challenged him to hit another six. Smith obliged with an even bigger one than before.

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A very boyish Steve Smith with the late Phillip Hughes (left) playing for NSW in India in 2009 in the Champions League Twenty20 Final.

But it's what Smith did afterwards in the dressing room that really shocked his teammates.

"He was very, very quiet when we started and he was the butt of our jokes," Hughston recalled. "We told him we have a tradition that when you make your first grade debut you sing a song. So at the end of the game, everyone said 'what song are you going to sing?'.

"He gets up and starts singing 'happy birthday to you' in the style of Marilyn Monroe [to JFK]. We couldn't believe it.

"He is more of a character than he lets on. Back in the day you didn't speak until you were spoken to. But he's a mini prankster. He loves a laugh and loves every minute of being on a cricket field. He can be very, very funny actually, no matter what the situation."

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He's got the respect of his teammates and, unusually, pretty much the entire media pack.

Smith was a star at every level of junior cricket he played. He was cricketer of the year at the age of nine at Illawong-Menai Junior Cricket Club, after a season in which he averaged almost 100 with the bat and took a wicket for every 5 runs scored against his bowling. Which is amazing.

People often forget that when Smith won his first baggy green for Australia -- he made his Test debut at Lord's, in a match against Pakistan played on neutral turf -- he batted at number eight in the order, after the wicket keeper.

He was initially seen as a spin bowler who also bats. He was even seen in some quarters as the new Shane Warne. He's now officially the world's number one batsman, with a bullet.

Smith's father Peter, who has a degree in chemistry, gave an interesting interview to the ABC two years ago, when his son was first named Australian captain.

"One of his teachers in primary school asked the class what they all wanted to be when they grew up and Steve said 'a cricketer,'" the elder Smith reminisced.

"She said 'you won't earn much money in that, will you?'"

Wrong. Smith now earns well over $1 million a year on his Cricket Australia contract, plus match payments, plus considerably more for endorsements. 18 months ago, he was estimated to have earned $3.1 million in total over the year.

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Steve Smith got hit in an extremely uncomfortable part of the anatomy midweek. Which has very little relevance to this story, but we like the pic.

The thing about Smith is he doesn't act like a superstar. This reporter has met the man one-on-one just once at a sponsor's event. He came up and said: "Hi, I'm Steve."

Obviously he knew that everybody knew who he was. But it was still a clear indication of a good bloke.

"Nothing goes to his head. He's still a good mate and still has time for everyone," Hughston said. "He had an Australian game on the day of a mate's wedding last season, but he still came out the night before. He goes out of his way for his mates, which is a great thing."

Hughston described Smith as a real "nuffy" in the dressing room. The word can often be a derogatory term, but it's also a way of describing someone with an obsessive interest in a particular thing. For Smith, that obsession is -- who would guess? -- cricket.

"He just knows the game and he loves the game. I've seen him go through everyone's kit in the dressing room, picking up their bats just to see what they feel like. He never puts them back, of course."

Like all obsessives, Smith practises. And practises and practises and practises. Hughston recalls a day when he was first trying out one of his signature shots -- the totally-not-in-the-texbook whip through the legside of a ball which is well outside off stump.

Here's a very outlandish example of that shot which Smith once played in a One Dayer.

And a slightly less exaggerated one he played last Sunday, which was still a remarkable shot because BATTING TEXTBOOKS DO NOT SAY that a ball on one side of the pitch should be hit to the other side.

"One day he just asked for some throwdowns [balls thrown at a batsman from close range] and he was hitting them all to square leg," Hughston said. "I started throwing it harder and harder and harder and I was getting the shits because he was literally standing outside off but hitting through square leg and I was just like 'this is ridiculous'.

If you're not really a cricket person, think of what Smith does in tennis terms. Essentially, he's hitting forehands when he should be hitting backhands. Speaking of tennis, Smith has become famous for overhead strokes in One Day and T20 cricket which strongly resemble a tennis serve or smash.

Then there's the completely insane, unheard-of shot that goes between the legs. They call it the "tweener", again, just like they do in tennis.

Yet in Test cricket, Smith plays in a more orthodox, traditional manner, especially at the start of his innings. He's essentially two players in one. A straightforward, upfront batsman with a strong cheeky streak. At the batting crease, as in life.

Oh, and that song he sang in the Sutherland Cricket Club dressing room? You'll recall that his teammates coaxed him into singing it because it was "traditional". It was of course a prank. No one had done it before. But guess what? It's a genuine tradition now.

"Thanks to Steve, it's now a tradition have to sing a song after your first match," Matt Hughston confirmed.

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