He does not fidget as much on a sofa as he does on the crease as he settles in to face a bowler (who we are sure fidgets much more internally), but there are times when we feel that Steve Smith, arguably the best batsman in the world and the captain of the Australian cricket team, would rather face a fearsome bowler than talk. Big of the shoulder, gentle of voice and still looking every bit as young as he did when he made his debut in the game in 2010 (when people were still trying to figure out whether he was a batsman or a bowler), the Aussie cricketer is on very certain turf when he talks about technology. He did get hooked to cricket because of a gadget – the good old television. “When I was about four years old,” he remembers. “I just always loved the game. I just always wanted to be a cricketer. Watched it on TV!”
In the beginning, was the PlayStation!
And he was always one for the gadgets. “The first gadget that I ever really wanted, probably a PlayStation, when I was younger, to play my games on,” he says, when asked about his first gadget. “Yeah, that’s probably the first gadget that I ever wanted.“
He got it too. “I did, I was very fortunate,” he recalls. “I was very lucky. Christmas present. So, yeah, it was good fun for a while.”
The gaming streak still runs strong in him, and indeed in the Australian cricket team. “Always like playing my FIFA Soccer,” he says. “A lot of the boys now still enjoy playing on the console.”
Wait, FIFA Soccer? We thought he would be playing cricket games on it. Mind you; there is a paucity of good cricket video games out there. Smith’s shake of the head indicates that our thoughts are right – someone out there needs to make a great cricket game. Fast. And if they want Smith to play, perhaps they could base it on the two cricketers he admires. “Mark Waugh. Loved how he played did everything so easy. Just elegant,” Smith says. “And Michael Slater. He probably broke the sort of mold of opening batters, who were supposed to be always there to see off the new ball and block it for a good couple of hours. I really admired the way he played.”
Droning about the iPhone…and the Fitbit
We turn to the gadget he endorses and which set up the whole interaction – Fitbit. Asked about the wearable (he is wearing what seems to be a Charge 2), Smith is pretty vocal about the role it plays in his fitness routine.
“It plays a great role. It’s quite phenomenal that it can actually track your sleep, and see what you are doing. It’s quite amazing. I really love the feature when after ten thousand steps, it gives you a little reminder, saying “congratulations.” I think that keeps me active. Makes me want to achieve that goal for the day,” he pauses, then continues. “It tracks my sleep which is crucial.” And then he smiles for the first time in the interview – it is a very sunny boyish grin, the sort that we are sure gives pace and spin bowlers sleepless nights. And it is the thought of sleepless nights that brought the smile on.
“As captain of the team I sometimes I get trouble sleeping,” he confesses and taps the Fitbit on his wrist. “It just reminds me of that and shows me the patches that I sleep in. It does a terrific role in that and when I am working out. I do a lot of workouts in the gym. It tracks my heart right. I can see when I met my peak and when I met my resting heart rate. So it’s very beneficial for that.”
Does he not feel that tech is intruding into his life? I mean, imagine wearing a mechanical device on your wrist all day and night long? “I think they don’t look too much like a fitness tracking watch. You can actually wear them quite casually as well. Wear them on a night out and things like that,” he says. “I have got few of the Fitbits. I have got the Fitbit Charge 2, the Fitbit Blaze, both a little bit different.”
What other gadgets does he use? The Aussie skipper pulls out an iPhone. “I have got the iPhone 7 Plus at the moment,” he says. “It’s always nice. Bigger screen. It’s good when I am traveling a lot; I can watch movies and tv shows. I don’t have to have my iPad…”
Aha, so he has an iPad as well? He laughs.
“Yes, I have got an iPad as well. The iPad Pro. I do enjoy my gadgets,” he confesses. “I have actually recently just bought a drone as well. I don’t think you can really fly it much in India. There are lots of laws there. I have got the Mavic Pro which I enjoy flying around. I think it goes around 8 kilometers and in 27 minutes flat time. So, it’s a good bit of fun. I hope you have one.”
When we shake our heads on the issue of drone possession, he raises his eyebrows in slight “what sort of geeks are you” surprise. What about photography? After all, Australian cricketers have a phenomenal track record as photographers – Steve Waugh even had a whole book on his photography. Smith laughs and shakes his head. “Not really. It’s only really a new hobby for me. I do enjoy the images I can catch on the drone. You can get some kind of cool things from above and different angles. It’s cool,” he says.
Tech and cricket – a solid partnership
Which of course brings us to a rather touchy subject – technology in cricket. Although recent times have been seeing more and more tech in the sport, some critics have been less than pleased with the arrival of gadgetry in the game, saying it reduces its human element. And a lot of the critics have been Australians, who are very traditional when it comes to cricket (they still treasure their old baggy green caps!).
The new Australian captain, however, feels that tech and cricket are a great combination. “I think it’s fantastic,” he says, “You know it’s amazing the things people can do. No, I think technology is wonderful. I think it’s very beneficial. I know a lot of players at the moment who are carrying their Fitbits around, using them in the gym to see their heart rates and things like that are really important for us. Guys are wearing GPS vests out on the field to see how fast they are going, knowing how much ground they are covering during a day’s play. With technology, I can look at different batters on the screen and see where their weaknesses are, where guys bowl to certain people. Yeah, technology has been fantastic for cricketers as it has evolved over a period of time.”
Has his own use of technology in cricket increased over time? “Since I have been the captain, I have certainly used a lot more,” he says, once again stressing the role captaincy has played. “I like to know where guys are trying to hit the ball and look at where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are. And try and exploit them as much as possible. And there is so much footage out there now that is available.”
Is not technology in danger of replacing the human umpires on the field, we ask.“I don’t think so,” he answers. “It is just good that it can help them out and you try and get the right decision as much as possible and I think DRS and all the technology involved certainly helped that.”
What about traditionalists who insist that all this viewing of data only complicates life and one should simply go out and play? Smith considers this and replies: “I think everyone is different and the way they go about it. Some people want to look at more vision and see what different people are doing. Others just like to see the ball and hit it. So, I think each individual has their own way of preparing and being ready for the contest.”
But does not viewing all that information need, even more, time, time that is at a premium given the packed schedules of cricketers? Smith smiles, and this time the grin is a slightly wry one. “We do get some down time here and there,” he says, and shaking his head continues. “It’s part of my job. My job as the captain is to get the best out of my team and out of my players. That’s part of my responsibility – to make sure I’m studying the opposition, ensuring that plans are in place to do well.” He looks at us almost defiantly, and mutters: “You gotta find time for these things.”
For just a moment you glimpse the steel in the eyes and you know he certainly does find time for them.
And does not having so much data on his mind affect it? Make him nervous? After all even the opposition would have studied his tapes and worked out his strengths and weaknesses and so on.
“I don’t really get that nervous,” he replies. “I just get fidgety, as you probably have seen. Plenty going on there,” he adds, pointing to a blonde head. “I’m not a really nervous nervous guy when I’m batting. It’s just nice to have that reassurance that you have looked at different things, and you can get a fair indication how someone is likely to bowl or bat.”
The Appy side beckons
We move over to the application side. It is one thing to have an iPhone, but what apps does the master willow wielder have on it? The question surprises him a little (hooray for us!) and he actually picks up his iPhone to take a look. “Of course, the Fitbit app which obviously syncs to your phone, which is great,” and he laughs at our “not Fitbit again” expression and carries on. “Then I love my social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook are my three bigs ones that I probably open the most.”
He swipes another screen and utters the name of the one app that does not surprise us one bit. “WhatsApp. I’m sure everyone uses WhatsApp,” he continues with his app exploration. “Spotify, Always a big one for me that’s where I listen to my music.”
What about Apple Music then? “Just haven’t tried really, Apple Music,” he replies. “IMDb to look what movies I’m going to watch and how they rate them. Real estates apps back home, realestate.com. Netflix of course. Uber, Uber.. I’m just going through them,” he laughs as he sees us looking at his phone.
Notice something interesting in all those apps he mentioned? There is no cricket app in them. Doesn’t he use any app to keep track of cricket?
“No, I don’t,” he replies, his eyes still on his phone. “I have the ACB app. I follow the county scores…” He laughs as he notices something. “And it (the ACB app) has been deleted. Nah, but I normally get all that stuff off Twitter. So, that’s probably about it.” He puts the iPhone down pretty much as he would put down a bat after a particularly trying session on a bad wicket.
He has named Facebook, Twitter and Instagram among his favorite apps. And he has been very active on social networks. Does he not find them intrusive or distracting? “No. I think social networks are fantastic to show me different things. I just use social media a lot to read news articles and things like that online. It’s a fantastic place,” he says.
Changing stuff…and a tricky question
He has used a fair bit of tech and seen it evolve over time. Is there anything he would like to change?
“What would I change?” he frowns and thinks. “It is a very difficult question. I’m not sure. I’m sure technology is going to continue to grow and there’s going to be some special and different things. You look at it now and you can see some pretty amazing things like ball tracking, hotspot and the snicko and all those different things and I’m sure that’s going to continue to grow and there is going to be lots more data out there.”
He pauses and then comes out with what he would like to see. “I have always thought about being able to, for instance, to have an average of where the ball ends up so that the keeper can stand or be closer maybe on certain wickets… things like that. I’m sure that might be a little bit down the line.”
As we get up and say our goodbyes, we ask one final, totally non-tech, question: why don’t he and his girlfriend’s dog don’t pull on? He looks puzzled and then, on being told of our fondness for canines, laughs.
“Interesting question. I’m not sure. I guess, Danni has had the dog for 12 or 13 years, so it’s her dog and probably just thinks that I’m invading its space, perhaps,” he smiles. “I do like dogs.”
Now, if there was an app to make that dog like him too.
Of course, and bowlers all over the world would wish there was an app to help them dismiss him easily.
There is a better chance of the former happening.
Steve Smith might fidget at the crease.
But he is very sound. Technically.