NEW DELHI: Steve Smith has been the tormentor-in-chief for England in the ongoing Ashes series. Thanks largely to the former Australian captain, Australia have retained the urn and are now one win away from winning their first Ashes series in England in 18 years. But despite Smith’s batting being praised by one and all, some feel the ball-tampering episode, during the Newlands Test in Cape Town against South Africa last year, for which Smith was banned for a year will always haunt the former Australian skipper.
After Steve Harmison‘s ‘cheat’ comment for Smith, his ex team-mate, England spinner Monty Panesar has echoed the same sentiment, saying Smith will never be considered to be a great of the game, because of his involvement in the ball tampering scandal that rocked Australian cricket.
In an exclusive interview with Timesofindia.com from England, Panesar spoke about this and more.
What’s your take on this edition of the Ashes so far? Do you think England can make it 2-2?
I think, England majorly focused on the World Cup and they wanted to manage the Ashes as they could. The World Cup was England’s top agenda and it is difficult to do both (World Cup and Ashes). They can’t have both. The series has been brilliant. This is what we need in Test cricket. This is what makes crowds attend when T20s are dominating. We have witnessed amazing Test matches. I think England will make it 2-2. Australia are probably the better team than England right now. The way they have come into the series, it is amazing. The way their seamers have performed is brilliant. Steve Smith has been a huge factor for them. I think Jimmy Anderson would have made a difference if he was available. With his experience, he would have stopped Smith. England have desperately missed Jimmy in the Ashes series.
Which are the areas England have been lacking in the most so far?
England have lacked solid openers in the series. They need a pair (opening pair) on an urgent basis. If Rory Burns and Joe Denly can play that role, the problem will be sorted. England’s middle order is their strength. If these two come up with good knocks and foundation, the job for the middle order will be easy.
Do you think the English cricketers and team management were over-confident after the World Cup win?
It’s not the over confidence. It is about energy and the resources. The main goal of the players and the ECB was to win the World Cup. Players did the job for us. And, if it came at the expense of losing the Ashes then so be it. Our goal was to win the World Cup.
Steve Smith has been incredible in the series. Your take on how he made a comeback to international cricket after serving a ban for the ball-tampering incident
(Steve) Smith was probably honest with himself. He is back and doing what he always loves to do. He is batting well and scoring runs. He is a traditional Australian cricketer with the baggy green. He is exactly what an Australian cricketer looks like. We all have heard of great (Diego) Maradona and his hand goal (hand of God) in the World Cup. People remember him because of that goal. Similarly, people will always remember Smith’s involvement in the ball-tampering episode during the Test against South Africa. He will always be known as a cheat, despite scoring huge number of runs. There is no doubt though, that he is a great talent. He has been phenomenal for Australian cricket. After some years, I am not sure how people will treat him. When his name will be placed alongside great cricketers then there will be a question that is he really a great or just a good cricketer who is also a cheat.
That’s something your former team-mate Steve Harmison recently said, that ‘no matter what, Steve Smith will be a cheat forever’…
This will always be at the back of the mind of every cricket fan. Smith has similar stature as Ricky Ponting. Does he deserve that? I would say no. Because Ponting captained the team, scored many match-winning knocks and guided Australia to World Cup (title), but he didn’t do the Sandpaper incident. If we will compare Smith with him, we would be tarnishing Ponting’s image. I don’t think his (Smith) name should be associated with any cricketing great. There is a difference between a good player and a great player. It’s all about how you conduct yourself on and off the field. Because of the sandpaper incident, Smith will always be below the ‘great’ status. Look at Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni or Kapil Dev. When we talk about these cricketers we add legend or great before their names. Be it on or off the field, these guys have conducted themselves so well. When you meet them, you feel so good. They are great human beings. It doesn’t matter how many runs Smith will score, he will never be in the league of greats.
Would it be fair to say that so far England have lost to Steve Smith?
England lost to Steve Smith. Australia are lucky they didn’t have to face Jimmy Anderson.
What’s your take on Joe Root’s captaincy in the series? Do you think Root should step down as captain and make way for someone else?
At times, I think he tries to play safe and those decisions have gone in the team’s favour. He has the sense of the game. Let’s look at some of the England captains. You look at Mike Brearley, Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff and now Joe Root. I think Root has the ability to get the best out of an individual. He has got the best out of Jofra Archer. He should remain as captain. He is a good player and (is) scoring runs. The only thing he has to do is to make strategy and plans to bring England Test cricket back on track. It will be a bad decision to ask him to quit captaincy
Tim Paine is on the verge of making history. He is set to become the first Australian captain to win an Ashes series in England in 18 years (after Steve Waugh in 2001). Your take on his captaincy, considering he was made captain only because Smith was banned.
He has done incredibly well. He has managed the likes of David Warner and Steve Smith. He has been managing seam bowlers and rotating them with full planning. It’s not easy, trust me. Apart from this, managing senior players like Warner and Smith, is also not easy and Paine is doing this really well. Smith is there. He has captaincy experience, so Paine must be getting a lot of help from him.
England have been going in with only one specialist spinner in Jack Leach. Was that a good call by the selectors? Do you think Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali would have made a difference?
I think Moeen Ali has a bright chance of coming into the final Test at the Oval. The track will assist spinners and Moeen can play a good role.
The ICC World Test Championship has begun. Who according to you will emerge champion?
Australia. The way they are playing and dominating, I am sure they will win the championship.