Sometimes feeling like you fit in can be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. You might feel like you are doing everything you possibly can, but that one little missing thing always seems to hold you back from feeling that you are truly accepted. Perhaps it’s your red hair, or lack of breasts, or shit nickname like ‘Shirley’. Or maybe it’s just your inability to bowl leg-spin anymore.
Steven Peter Devereux Smith has been on something of a crusade these past few years, attempting to finally eradicate any lingering notion that he is an all-rounder. He comes across as quite earnest about the topic whenever it’s raised in interviews. He’s a batsman damnit and people should recognise him as such. We imagine his sale in the recent IPL auction must have been a bitter sweet moment then. Sure he was picked up for big money (which is more than can be said for, ooh, every Englishman in the auction who isn’t Kevin Pietersen), but he was still sold as an all-rounder. A player who didn’t bowl a single delivery in last year’s IPL. Or in the Big Bash. Old habits die hard it seems.
The fact remains though that, despite everything Devereux has done to try and change people’s minds, he is still generally thought of as an all-rounder. It’s a stigma that just ain’t gonna go away. During the second Test in South Africa, where Australia were lacking a fifth bowling option, it was interesting that the ball was thrown first to a guy who patently can’t bowl (David Warner), and then to a guy who probably shouldn’t bowl lest he collapse into a crippled heap (Michael Clarke). It was only after these two had had a trundle that the ball was, belatedly, handed to Devereux. Who subsequently picked up the wicket of Quinton de Kock. And then didn’t bowl again for the rest of the Test match.
Something strange is going on here, that’s for sure. A guy who was originally picked as a bowler is now, a few years down the line, rarely trusted to bowl at all. Granted his numbers are not great, but since his reintroduction to the Test setup he has taken seven wickets at an average of 36. That’s not bad for a part-timer. Again, admittedly most of the wickets were Ian Bell’s, but there is clearly more to his bowling than Warner’s or even Clarke’s, whose own bowling figures are massively distorted by that one freak spell in Mohali.
Why Devereux doesn’t bowl more is a mystery to us. One reason might be that he simply doesn’t want to, and has made that clear to the captain. Given he is still finding his feet at Test level, concentrating on his batting is clearly his priority, and throwing in bowling duties on top of that is liable to upset matters. From those rare times he does bowl these days it’s clear that he doesn’t practice very much at it. Usually only one ball an over lands vaguely near where it’s intended to. But when it does land, bloody hell, he is more than just decent.
But as Shane Watson progressively falls to pieces before our very eyes, the question of the fifth bowling option will become an ever more pressing one for the Australian team. Unless James Faulkner is able to quickly integrate himself into the Test setup (and there is nothing to say he can’t do that), they are going to need to turn more to part-timers in the future in order to rotate their quicks effectively. Especially if host nations insist on preparing dead pitches in order to neutralise the threat posed by Mitchell Johnson. Devereux is the most likely player to fill that role. His leg-spin would also be an asset against oppositions that feel comfortable simply picking off Nathan Lyon. And on dry continental pitches where Johnson’s footmarks become a concern.
With Watson in the team this is a less pressing issue, but with Watson absent, and Devereux batting at six as he did in the second Test, the pressure on him to conform to the role of an all-rounder will become ever more urgent. Unless Australia look to rejig their lineup entirely, such as playing Devereux as a pure specialist batsman and bringing in someone like Glenn Maxwell or Cameron White to bat at six (always a possibility in these strange times), Devereux will probably need to become that part-time option. It will place more pressure on his batting, which is still only beginning to look somewhat reliable, but if he wants to finally nail down that Test spot (and the future Test captaincy that will surely also become his way by way of reward), then he might just have to bite the bullet.