Week 218 (16 - 22 December)
There are a number of qualities that nearly all elite professional sportsmen and sportswomen share – natural talent, dedication, confidence and a desire to win.
But despite these common traits, there remains a small minority who can reach levels beyond even the best in their sport. In football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated for over a decade, sharing the last 10 Ballon D’ors between them. In tennis, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have consistently outclassed other top players who in any by-gone era, would have been a dominant force. In cricket, this dominant individual is the outstanding Australian captain Steve Smith.
What makes Smith and these other athletes, year-after-year, the best at what they do? Are they just more talented than the rest? Maybe. But then again, there are individuals who dominate for a few years, but then begin to tail off. 2005 Ballon D’or winner Ronaldinho springs to mind. He was arguably more talented than both Messi and Ronaldo, but failed to achieve anything close to what they have.
Which begs the question, what else could it be?
The more you learn about these special sporting talents, the clearer it becomes. The quality they all share, which many other elite athletes do not, is a ruthless competitive edge. Unfortunately for those who do not have this, it’s something internal - it simply cannot be taught. It’s what makes 19-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer continue to play at 36, and it’s what made Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs carry on playing into his forties, when there was nothing else left for him to win. It’s also what makes Steve Smith the best batsmen in the world.
Four weeks ago in Brisbane, the International Cricket Council’s number one Test batsmen in the world led the Australian cricket team for his first time in an Ashes series. Since then, the world has witnessed Smith’s exceptional talent, his outstanding leadership, and above all, his ruthless competitive edge.
Under immense pressure to regain the symbolic urn trophy from historic rivals England, in a series that for many remains the pinnacle of the sport, Smith displayed qualities that were severely lacking from his English counterparts. He has scored 426 runs in just four innings, averaging 142. The next highest scorer from either side is England’s Dawid Malan, and he’s had six innings.
Despite there being two Tests left in the five-match series, Smith has led Australia to an unassailable 3-0 lead. Following the recent victory in Perth, which sealed what at this point was the inevitable return of the urn to Australia, Smith gave an emotional interview:
“I was crying in the sheds a minute ago, everything just came out. We’ve worked incredibly hard. It’s been a great couple of weeks, and I’m really proud of everyone back in that room. “It was my first Ashes series as captain and I wanted to make that mark and do something really special. “What the boys have done over the past couple of weeks has been exceptional. England have had their foot in the door...and we’ve been able to claw our way back. When we’ve done that we’ve been able to put our foot on the throat.”
Smith’s words were telling and demonstrate that to be consistently the very best in your sport, like Federer, like Messi, and like Smith – the metaphor of being able to put your foot on the throat of your opponent when it matters, is a necessary trait.
For his outstanding leadership, exceptional talent and demonstration of a rare ruthless edge, Steve Smith is the JTA Communicator of the Week.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons