Ashes: Is Steve Smith the best since Donald Bradman?

Steve Smith averages 75 in Tests as captain of Australia
Steve Smith averages 75 in Tests as captain of Australia

The scale of the damage done to England by Steve Smith's double century in the third Ashes Test is only matched by the sense of inevitability that the Australia skipper would get a monster score when he had only a few runs to his name.

Smith added an unbeaten 229 to the 141 not out he made in the first Test and averages more than 200 in the series.He is winning the Ashes for his country.

Not only that, but he is underlining his status as the number one Test batsman in the world.

And that's just in the present day.His heavy scoring, consistency and thirst for runs are drawing comparisons with the greatest of them all, Sir Donald Bradman.

The numbers

Smith made his maiden century in the fifth Test against England in August 2013.Since then, he has taken his tally of three-figure scores to 22.No one else has made more than 17 in the same period.

In that timeframe, he averages 72.76.Of other batsmen to have played more than 30 matches in that period, only New Zealand captain Kane Williamson's 64.89 comes close.

Still, we're talking about a relatively small sample when you consider the history of Test cricket goes back to 1877.

So consider this:during his merciless torture of the England attack on Saturday, Smith raised his career average to 62.89 - better than all to have ever played the game, with the exception of Bradman.

Think about that.Think of all of the great batsmen.Think of the greatest of the greats - Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Len Hutton, Brian Lara and Jack Hobbs, to name a few.

Smith has a better average than them all.

All-time top Test batting averages (minimum 20 innings)

The International Cricket Council has applied its ranking system historically, coming up with an all-time list.[1] Smith is fifth, behind Bradman, Hutton, Hobbs, Ricky Ponting and level with Peter May.

"At the moment his bat looks 6ft wide," said former Australia captain Mark Taylor.

"Smith has got an insatiable appetite for runs.You can see when he bats, he gets in that little bubble.He's almost oblivious to everything that's going on around him, except the ball that is coming out of the bowler's hand."

How does he do it?

An all-time great and a modern-day run machine - Steve Smith sits beside a model of Donald Bradman

"I know nothing about style.All I'm after is runs."

The words of Bradman, but they could easily have come from the mouth of Smith.

The Australia captain has a unique method, one so far removed from the MCC coaching handbook he could almost be playing a different sport.

To study Smith at the crease is to watch a man expending so much energy one wonders how he has the strength to bat for days on end.Twitching, fiddling, forever on the move.

The pre-delivery routine is always the same.Touch the left pad, then the right pad, then the box.Taps of the bat come in pairs, then one on its own, two flexes of the knees before the bowler delivers the ball.

Afterwards, it may be the hold of a pose as the ball skims to the boundary.Maybe it's a trotted single, pads on the outside of his knees and bat carried in both hands.It could be scampering between the wickets, heels kicking up to the backside, the urgency of a dog running after a ball.

If it's a dot ball, the fidgeting begins again.Right pad, box.Left pad, helmet.Walk to square leg, come back, begin pre-delivery routine.

In between those rituals, the actual batting has just as many moving parts.

Back and across to the pace bowlers, a move forward to the spinners.A backlift that takes the blade to gully, but always delivers the full face to the bowler.

Shuffle to off stump, giving the certain feeling that he will be either bowled or lbw.Not a bit of it.He never misses.

Bradman is regarded as the greatest batsman of all time

To bowlers, he is the ultimate irritant.There are Bradman comparisons to be found here, too.

"If you watch carefully, when he has his bat lifted towards third slip, then gully, then it comes right around, it is very much like Bradman," said former England opener Geoffrey Boycott.

As for the footwork - that wander towards point - it was forged to combat a weakness.

"It's a technique that has evolved," said Simon Katich, the former Australia opener who was New South Wales captain when Smith made his first-class debut.

"He was quite compulsive at playing the short ball and it got him into trouble.As a result, he felt he needed to get inside the ball more.

"He's so comfortable with people trying to bowl at his stumps because his strength is on the leg side."

If the technique is unique, then Smith's thirst for runs in unquenchable.It leads to hours in the nets, even if that means asking for help from unusual places.

"If he's at home and he can't find anyone else to go and practise with, he gets his fiancee Dani to feed balls into the bowling machine just so he can go and have a hit," Smith's manager Warren Craig told Test Match Special.

"Dani is fantastic.She is such a pivotal part of the success you see on the field."

Pint-sized Ashes:Australia pile on the punishment on day three

Is there a weakness?

That depends on who you ask.

Katich believes Smith has a game that can be adapted to suit all conditions.

However, former England off-spinner Graeme Swann says the Australia skipper is found wanting when he faces the moving ball.And the theory holds some water.

In the second innings of the second Ashes Test in Adelaide, when England had the pink ball swinging under floodlights, Smith looked a different player.

He survived a hair's-breadth lbw shout from James Anderson and was then pinned by Chris Woakes for only six.

Going further back, in the Ashes series in England in 2015, Smith had a tour of two halves.

On the flat pitches of Lord's and The Oval, when the sun was shining, he averaged 58.

When the ball moved at Cardiff, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, he mustered only 92 runs at 15.83.

"When he's playing at places where the ball doesn't move laterally, he really does cash in," said Swann.

"But I'm not having the Bradman comparisons - no matter how well he's doing at the minute - because every time the ball swings, even a fraction, like at Adelaide, he is all at sea.He looked terrible.

"His technique is completely incompatible with a moving ball."

Smith the man

Steve Smith with his fiancee Danielle Willis at the Australian Open in 2015

It's said that the captain of Australia's cricket team has a job second only to the prime minister when it comes to importance to the nation.

And while Smith is the highest-paid sportsman plying his trade in Australia, Craig says the skipper is a "normal Aussie bloke, who adores his dog Charlie".

That normality has cultivated an image that has attracted sponsors and transcended cricket.

"A lot of mums I speak to say what a great role model he is to kids, which is exactly what he wants to be," said Craig.

"The endorsements we do here are all very specific and reflect what he wants to project as a person and what his character is."

If his skills and persona are lucrative, then so too is his penchant for a flutter.

"Once New South Wales were preparing for the Champions League T20 in a town called Lismore," said Katich."On an afternoon off, the whole team went to the races.

"Steve took down one of the local bookies.He had 100 on the nose in one of the horses in the main race and it came in at 20/1."

And two more things to remember...

1.Smith, now the best batsman in the world, made his Test debut as a leg-spinning all-rounder, batting at number eight against Pakistan in 2010.

2.He could have played for England through his English mother.In 2007, he spent a summer playing club cricket for Sevenoaks Vine in Kent and played for Surrey's second XI.He was offered a contract by the county, but returned to Australia because he wanted to earn a baggy green cap.

It's probably best not to dwell on what might have been....

Steve Smith was initially picked as a leg-spinner, making 1 and 12 with the bat in his maiden Test at Lord's

References

  1. ^ all-time list. (www.relianceiccrankings.com)

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Austria far right: 'Nobody has anything to fear' says new minister

Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache shake hands and smile for the cameras at their joint press conference in ViennaImage copyright AFP Image caption Sebastian Kurz (R) has agreed a coalition deal with far-right party leader Heinz-Christian Strache

Austria's next interior minister has said "nobody has anything to fear" from the new coalition government.

Far-right politician Herbert Kickl, a senior figure in the Freedom Party, said he had "a very, very good feeling" about the new coalition with the conservative People's Party.

Austria's president approved the new coalition on Saturday, two months after inconclusive elections.

People's Party leader Sebastian Kurz, 31, will be Austria's new chancellor.

He will become the world's youngest head of government.

Introducing the new government, and the 180-page document setting out its agenda, Mr Kurz said the two parties had agreed "on a clear pro-European outlook".

As well as the interior ministry, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party has secured several other key posts in the new cabinet.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice-chancellor.His party colleagues will run the defence and health and social security ministries.

The new foreign minister will be Middle East expert and writer Karin Kneissl, who is not a Freedom Party member but was nominated by the party.

Mr Kurz's People Party won 32% of the vote in October's elections, securing the largest number of seats (62) in the 183-seat national council.

The Freedom Party came third, securing 26% of the vote and 51 seats.

At the request of Austria's president, the posts of justice minister and interior minister would not be held by the same party, Mr Kurz said.

The chancellor-designate was quick to retweet congratulations from his fellow youthful conservative prime minister, Ireland's Leo Varadkar.

Analysis:A rare far-right success

Bethany Bell, Vienna

Unlike most of Europe's populist parties, the Freedom Party has managed to translate its success at the ballot box into real political power.

It has been a major player in Austrian politics for decades.In recent years, the party has toned down some of its more extreme rhetoric.

But many analysts believe that, in or out of government, it has helped set a right-wing agenda, not just in Austria - but in other countries across Europe as well.

Its stance against immigration is becoming more mainstream, along with its populist tone.

During the election campaign, the Freedom Party accused Mr Kurz of stealing their policies.Heinz-Christian Strach, his new vice-chancellor, branded him an "imposter".

When the far-right Freedom Party last entered a coalition in Austria in 2000, its fellow EU member states froze bilateral diplomatic relations in response.

Those diplomatic sanctions were lifted months later, after the move failed to force the Freedom Party out of government and amid fears that continued sanctions could further increase nationalist tensions.

That is unlikely to happen again, as resurgent right-wing populist groups have been promoting anti-immigration and Eurosceptic agendas across much of the EU.

But unlike the Freedom Party, those other parties have struggled to convert electoral success into real power.

Earlier this year, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party lost the French presidential election comprehensively.Ms Le Pen was defeated by Emmanuel Macron, a liberal centrist and strong supporter of the European Union.

Elsewhere, the Dutch anti-immigration Freedom Party of Geert Wilders was defeated by liberal leader Mark Rutte.

In Germany, the nationalist and populist right of Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained seats in the national parliament, where it is now the third biggest party, but it is not in the frame for coalition talks....

References

  1. ^ What propels young leaders to power? (www.bbc.co.uk)

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ANC: Zuma pleads for unity as party picks new leader

South African President Jacob Zuma addresses an ANC gatheringImage copyright Reuters Image caption Mr Zuma said his ANC party was at a "crossroads"

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has called on the African National Congress (ANC) to stop infighting as it decides who will next lead the party.

Mr Zuma warned the future of the ANC was under threat, with South Africans "not happy" with it.

The main contenders to succeed him are the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Zuma's ex-wife.

Whoever wins is likely to succeed Mr Zuma as South African president.

But their bitter leadership battle has raised fears that the ANC could split before national elections in 2019.

President Zuma can remain head of state until those elections.He has been in office since 2009 and South Africa limits the presidency to two five-year terms.

The leadership contest is expected to be a close one, with legal challenges a possibility.

Addressing delegates at the beginning of a gathering to decide the next ANC leader, Mr Zuma said their movement was at a "crossroads".

"Petty squabbling that takes us nowhere needs to take back seat, our people are frustrated when we spend more time fighting among ourselves instead of solving the daily challenges they experience," he said.

Last year's disappointing results for the ANC in local elections, Mr Zuma said, "were a stark reminder that our people are not happy with the state of the ANC".

Image copyright Reuters/AFP Image caption The leading candidates are Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa

President Zuma is backing his 68-year-old former wife, Ms Dlamini-Zuma, for the leadership, a veteran politician in her own right who has been critical of the enduring power of white-owned businesses.

Mr Ramaphosa, 65, has spoken out strongly against state corruption and has the backing of the business community.

Recent news that he had a modest lead in the polls was quickly reflected by a rise in the financial markets.

President Zuma, 75, has been the focus of much controversy and he has survived several votes of no confidence in parliament.

He faces numerous corruption allegations but denies any wrongdoing.

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Media captionWhat advice should South Africa's ruling party take on board?

More than 5,000 delegates are taking part in the four-day ANC elective conference at the Expo Centre in Johannesburg.

A vote on the new leader is expected on Sunday.

The first major engagement for the new leader will be the ANC anniversary celebrations on 8 January.

The ANC has governed South Africa since the first democratic election more than 20 years ago.

The BBC's Andrew Harding says a question remains whether the ANC is in terminal decline, and what that might mean for South Africa's stability and its future.

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Media captionThe ANC was the party of Nelson Mandela but have people lost faith under Jacob Zuma?

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Aberdeen school bus crash driver named by police

Ian FordyceImage copyright Police Scotland/PA Image caption Ian Fordyce died on Friday when his bus crashed into a lorry

Police have named the bus driver who died in a school bus crash on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

Ian Fordyce was killed when the bus he was driving collided with a lorry and a car[1] on the B979 South Deeside Road, near Maryculter Bridge, on Friday morning.

The 68-year-old from Dundee had driven coaches for more than 40 years.

In a statement, his family said he would be "a sorely missed brother, father, grandfather and friend".

The crash happened at about 07:45 on Friday and involved a red Audi A5 car, a white DAF lorry and the bus.

Mr Fordyce's family statement also said:"Ian, affectionately known as 'Fingers' to most of his friends was very well known and popular with everyone he met.''

Image caption The school bus collided with a car and a truck.

"He drove coaches for 40 years and loved every minute of it.He will be a sorely missed brother, father, grandfather and friend.''

Sgt Rob Warnock, of Police Scotland, said:"This was a tragic incident which has resulted in a 68-year-old man losing his life.

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time."

The drivers of the car and lorry involved were taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with non-life threatening injuries.

The bus involved was carrying pupils, of primary and secondary age, from Lathallan private school in Johnshaven.

None of the 13 children on the bus at the time suffered serious injury....

References

  1. ^ collided with a lorry and a car (www.bbc.co.uk)

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