Is Steve Smith sleeping through the fourth innings?

For the last few years it has been said that his lack of zzzzs has caused his form to drop. But is that true? Do others have the same issue? And why is Smith like Beefy Botham?

Steve Smith is not the sexiest player to watch. He might end up as the second-best Test batter ever, but aesthetically, there are players who averaged half as much and are nicer on the eye. Because he bats so long, he kind of puts the viewer to sleep after a while.

And this is funny because Steve Smith owns a mattress company. In fact, he made millions off that investment. But the other thing that makes this all the more ridiculous is that Steve Smith doesn’t sleep during Test matches.

This has obviously become a big issue for him because we know his average splits now. For generations, it was tough to work this out. But on the left here we have his overall mark, which is second best of all time on high runs. And then you have the first innings, which is just a stupid mark, but he never reaches that again, and it is the consistency of it moving downward that is hypnotic. In fact, let’s take the overall mark off for a second.

It’s basically a slide that Smith slips down until he ends up in bed. In case you are wondering, this is not normal. You should struggle more through the match, but this is an extreme slide.

And because Smith doesn’t rest the thought is that these two things are related. Smith sleeps through the fourth innings.

There is a really in-depth Reddit piece on this from a few years ago by insideoutovercover. And it goes a lot further than just looking at his average. It gives us numbers on the hours of sleep Smith likely misses based on the man’s own words.

These numbers are just approximations, but we know eight hours a day is about right. Smith thinks he gets less than half of that, so over an entire Test it’s an awful lot of time for anyone to miss. Especially someone who is supposed to be performing high athletic feats against tiny red projectiles.

Smith has used sleeping pills before, but as someone who was prescribed them once, they don’t always work, or make you feel any better. Sleep for professional athletes has become a major part of the sport.

More than a decade ago the NBA and NHL started employing sleep doctors. Other sports have flirted with it as well. From what I can tell, no one in cricket has a sleep doctor on their books. I did ask a few teams and they were shocked this was a thing. Though I am sure individual cases have occurred, and I would assume by now Australia has probably hired one for Smith. And that it didn’t work.

Whether or not it is the reason for him struggling in the fourth innings doesn’t matter, it clearly can’t be helping.

Let’s start with what he is good at. Steve Smith is by a large distance the second-best batter ever when a test match starts. Smith is ten up on the third place, and that is Everton Weekes at 76. Smith’s 86 would be Bradmanesque if the little fella himself wasn’t 113.

For Smith, this innings makes the most sense. He is rested, the bounce is at its highest and most consistent. Crucially, he is not a context batter in the way Ben Stokes is. The job is simply to make runs here, there is the least amount of context required and only one man does it better ever.

By the second innings, Smith is back in the pack. Now, worth saying, he’s still averaging over 50 at this point. It’s a pretty tasty pack. But his average drops 30 runs from innings one. Hard to just ignore that.

Also worth noting here is that Bradman has slipped, not to a mortal level. He’s still looking down on everyone, but there is certainly some slippage there.

I mention that in part so I can point out that Bradman has gone straight back to dominating all worlds again in the third. Smith has not. I don’t think he’s that much worse than the second. Remember that this is a lower-scoring innings altogether, so even though he averages 12 less, there should be a dip here. But others seem to do ok. For a team as good as Australia, the third innings should be a fun time to cash in, yet he doesn’t.

Of course, the fourth is something else entirely. It is not even worth looking at Smith first. Let’s start with the fact that no player has ever made 2000 runs in the fourth, or even close. Sachin tops this list just below 1700, and you can see that Smith is so far from him. Now averaging under 30 will do that, but Sachin was also not a great fourth-innings batter, 36 average. But he got a lot of innings.

Steve Smith does not bat in the fourth innings a lot. Australia has batted first in a huge amount of his matches, so even the second innings is not something he's seen a lot of. So small sample size comes into the equation.

It is only 24 innings, but that’s not nothing. He makes a lot of runs at the start of the game in terms of average and totals. and then after that, the second innings is the only one where his batting holds up for the number of runs he has made compared to the innings.

But let’s focus on the fourth. 14% of his innings and less than half that of his runs. This is a massive discrepancy. Even allowing for some not-outs in chases - of which he has three - he should have made more runs.

And here are the fourth innings averages, Bradman drops to third here. Not that he isn’t good, but partly because the 500-run limit does change things a little. It means that South Africa’s Bruce Mitchell goes to number one.

In 12 innings, he scored 629 runs with five not-outs. But even if he was dismissed every time he still would have averaged over 50. Again it is a small sample size, but you run into that a lot in the fourth innings. Mitchell was a warrior in what was a pretty ordinary South African tea, batting all the positions. His Test career spanned 22 years on either side of WW2. He destroyed English bowling attacks for fun and ended his career with an average of 49. If he played in a better era for South Africa, he would have a much greater reputation.

But you know why I am showing this because Mitchell is the anti-Smith. We don’t know how good he was in the fourth innings, but it certainly looks like he was at his best there.

Most of the best batters in the fourth innings are the openers, Hobbs, Greenidge, Boycott and Gavaskar all loved it. That is because of a high portion of not-outs in low chases. These men knew how to boost their records and were good enough to do it.

Smith is not an opener, and he’s not doing well. And to show you how much he struggles here, Jason Holder is the person ahead of him on this list. Sure, he can hold a bat, but how many times do you think his batting would be at the level of Smith? There is clearly a problem here. Hard to see him this low on any list and think this is in any way normal.

Let’s say sleep plays a part, which should make some sense. But is that really all it is? We know all batters get worse as the match goes on, that makes sense. But clearly, Smith’s graph is falling so much worse than it should. So I wondered, who else gets really tired?

Keepers do. They are involved in more balls per match than any other player. And yet their drop-off is similar to batters and nothing like Smith’s. perhaps normal cricket fatigue is different to not sleeping exhaustion. But the point still stands.

Not all keepers are the same though, so what if we split them up by top six keepers and 7-11? Because the top six guys are doing by far the most work of anyone, essentially playing as double specialists (or full-time all-rounders). And you can see what happens. Specialist keepers have a nice normal decline in their records, and keeper batters can barely hold their bats by the end. All the runs your top six keepers are giving are in the first three innings, they’re no better than the guys down the bottom at the end.

Obviously, the pattern is not as stark as Smith's. The fourth innings is the important one for both. And it would be hard to argue that both the hardworking keepers and the barely sleeping Smith are tired.

When you look at how many runs people drop off from the first innings to the last, that is when you really see how the top six batters lose around a quarter, keepers well over a third, and Smith is two-thirds.

But getting tired isn’t the only thing Smith does that most do at his level. He is one of the few players to play across the line so frequently. And doing that early on when the pitch is bouncing consistently is very different than at the end of the game. The only way I could work this out was to check his LBW percentage, as bowled include drag-ons. And in the first two innings, his dismissal rate is less than normal to the LBW - which is scandalous. In the last two innings, he is dismissed far more than other players in leg before. Now, this is not scientific. And the differences aren’t huge. But this does make sense, even if it doesn’t account for all the loss of form.

But Smith is one of many players to play across the line. There are the players who did it a lot. None have Smith’s problem in the fourth. Though what I would say is that Smith is a little different to them, most of this lot dragged the ball from outside off to leg. Smith turns off stump into the leg. And no one else has ever done it like him, he truly is one of one.

But the thing I kept wondering through this is if any other batters share this pattern. So the easiest place to start was his big four group. None have a pattern even slightly like Smith. In fact, outside of Virat’s third innings drop, outside of the first innings, everyone one of these players makes more runs than him from then on in.

Shall we add Babar Azam too? Just because while he doesn’t fit the age profile, he certainly does on talent. And he is not great in the last innings. He still averages eight more than Smith, but his curve looks far more like Root’s. Smith among his contemporaries looks completely unique.

However, I went digging around everywhere to see if any other batters shared this Smith-like trend. Because I figured if everyone kept pointing out his problem, it must be fairly unique, and it’s not.

Everton Weekes was my favourite because outside of a strong second innings, his pattern was almost the exact same as Smith's. He even averaged less than him in the fourth innings. Azhar Ali’s pattern is different, but in the fourth, he is again lower than Smith. Then there is Brian Lara, who averages six more in the fourth, but he’s another high first innings, low fourth kind of guy. And unlike Weekes and Azhar, Lara is an all-time great with a lot of Test in his career like Smith.

There are also just a bunch that may not share the same first innings to last innings batting slip, but are pretty good throughout the first three innings and then lose it all at the end. In fact, other than Marcus Trescothick, they all bat fine in the first two innings and don’t make many in the last two. Denis Compton is almost identical to Smith, just without the first innings boost.

Also worth pointing out is that across all the strugglers in the fourth innings, I found top and middle-order players, Asian and SENA. If there was a pattern among them, I could not find it.

These weren’t the only players I found, it also included many Australians. Far more than I ever imagined. Some of these are just fourth innings strugglers like Khawaja and Border. If we take them out we’re left with four players with similar trends to Smith.

Colin McDonald is not that famous, but he was a fine opener, and you can see he was a first two innings player who struggled after. The next one shocked me, Michael Clarke. Because when he played, everyone talked about all his weaknesses, and I don’t remember a single person talking about the fact he was worse as the match went on. But I think the most obvious one is the other Steve, Waugh.

This is uncanny. Waugh doesn’t quite have the first innings, but over one and two, he is a star, and from then on it all falls apart. He is even worse than Smith.

So the question with him, or McDonald, or Weekes, or Azhar or Lara, is did they all not sleep during Tests? Or any of the many players who struggle in the back half of the innings throughout their careers. It's getting harder to believe this is just sleep, as we find more players.

But I thought it was at least worth looking at one player we knew who didn’t sleep much during Tests. It should be pointed out that while Smith was up all night thinking about the rest of the match, Botham was probably drinking and you know, whatever else he would do after midnight. If you put ‘Don’t tell Kath' - the name of his wife - in the subtitle of his autobiography, he was clearly up to things he shouldn’t have been.

And while clearly Botham wasn’t the level of batter of Smith, you look at his record and he has a similar first innings to last drop, even if it’s not as extreme, and he’s more steady in the middle. So this appears like tiredness caught up to him. But there is an even better way of checking this with Botham because as an all-rounder, we can actually check his record with the ball.

When you look at this it’s very clear that in the first three innings, he is way above average at taking wickets. Then in the fourth innings, he falls off a cliff just like his batting. So with bat and ball, Botham was one of the best players in the world, and in the last, he’s a sack of rotten potatoes. Being that we know it was batting and bowling, I am more certain that his lifestyle killed his fourth innings game.

So I think there is certainly some evidence that Botham got tired. But for three innings his record was fairly flat and then at the end it falls over. That isn’t Smith. He gets worse every innings. Like he is degrading with the pitch.

With Smith, I think sleep matters. But I don’t think you can discount that the first innings makes the most sense for how he plays, and each subsequent innings suits his peculiar batting personality less. He also does play across the line. He should be struggling more in the last innings because of that. But finally, the truth is many players don’t make runs at the end, it is a tricky innings, and he is not alone.

Though like most things, Steve Smith might be the most extreme of this less-known trend. The greatest sleeping batter the fourth innings has ever seen.