By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – After picking up pretty much every individual honour on offer in a spectacular 2015, Australia captain Steve Smith has a more collective goal in his sights this year — restoring his country to the top of the test rankings.
Smith finished his annus mirabilis as the world’s top ranked test batsman and won the ICC Cricketer and Test Cricketer of the Year awards as well as the Allan Border Medal as Australia’s best player.
The 26-year-old scored a remarkable 2,369 runs across all three formats, rattling up 1,474 in tests alone at an average of 73.70 with six centuries.
He was Australia’s highest run scorer as they secured a fifth 50-over World Cup triumph and he led the test side to series victories over India, New Zealand and West Indies.
Even in the Ashes defeat to England, the one major blot on Australia’s copy book for the year, he scored his maiden double century to claim the Man of the Match award at Lord’s.
Even before he was captain, though, Smith was always clear that team success came first.
With Australia already 2-0 up in the three-match series, this week’s third test against West Indies might be a dead rubber but victory would send them above India into second place in the test rankings behind South Africa.
“It’s a huge motivation, that’s what we want to be, number one in all formats and we’re working extremely hard to get there,” Smith told reporters on the eve of the match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Saturday.
“It would be nice to win this week and wrap this series up 3-0. It’s been a good summer for us so far, so we’d like to finish on a high.”
Defeat for South Africa in their ongoing series against England would then send Australia back to the summit but even if the English fail to build on their winning start, February’s two-test tour of New Zealand offers Smith’s side another chance.
Australia beat the Black Caps 2-0 on home soil in November but the series was closer than the scoreline would suggest and Smith’s side, like many of the top test teams, have struggled to win series overseas in recent years.
“Playing away from home is a challenge for all teams around the world at the moment, I think that’s one of the big things we’re going to be judged on,” Smith added.
“It’s going to be a big challenge in New Zealand, but I’m confident if we can continue playing the way we are, hopefully we can have a lot of success over there.”
Smith’s own form hit a minor blip when he was dismissed for 10 in Australia’s only innings in the first test against West Indies but the runs were flowing again in Melbourne last week after knocks of 134 and 70 without being dismissed.
“I felt pretty good last week, I guess it was good just to spend a little bit of time in the middle again,” Smith said.
“All of my movement and my swing and everything was back in synch. I went back and looked at some footage before the Melbourne test and felt my bat face was a little bit closed.
“Last week I got my bat face back where I wanted it to be and everything felt really good, so hopefully I can score a few more this week.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by…)