Cricket fans are hailing Steve Smith's extraordinary game awareness after a moment of "genius" from the Aussie batter in his side's victory over New Zealand in the third one-day international (ODI).
Smith belted his 12th ODI century to help the Aussies complete a 3-0 series sweep in what was captain Aaron Finch's final game in the 50-over format.
It came down to the final over but the Aussies ensured Finch retired from 50-over cricket triumphantly at Cazalys Stadium in Cairns on Sunday as the hosts held on to win the third and final international by 25 runs.
In his 146th and last ODI for his country, Finch was out cheaply again for five runs, before Smith and anchored Australia's innings with 105 off 131 balls.
Helping the hosts set the Black Caps 268 to win, Smith left fans in awe with a moment of brilliance in the middle of his innings.
Smith had the foresight to notice that the Kiwis had five fielders outside the 30-yard circle early in the 38th over, which is not permitted until the final 10 overs.
The Aussie batter capitalised on the New Zealand oversight by belting Jimmy Neesham’s next ball for six, before quickly alerting the umpires to the extra man outside the circle.
The 33-year-old was subsequently awarded a no ball and a free hit on the next delivery, as viewers marvelled at the cricket brain on the Aussie superstar.
“Steve Smith’s awareness is second to none, isn’t it?” former Australian spinner Kerry O‘Keeffe said on Fox Cricket.
“He knew the body count in the outfield. How good?"
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 11, 2022
Steve Smith is a genius. Knew there are 5 fielders outside the ring and knew it is a no ball. Went for the big hit and got a 6. Plus a free hit. Great game awareness 💯@stevesmith49@CricketAus #ausvnz pic.twitter.com/NhAuqLI5rW
— Aakumahi (@aakumahi) September 11, 2022
sir steve smith mad genius really scares me https://t.co/NpqSUk3nsy
— Shadan Khan (@imshadankhan) September 11, 2022
— SportsTiger (@sportstigerapp) September 11, 2022
How good is Steve Smith, he smashed a six against Neesham and knew one fielder was short in 30 yards so after the six he told the umpire about this and got the no-ball.#stevesmith pic.twitter.com/XJR5L0ed8a
— Bikas Bandyopadhyay (@BBandyopadhyay3) September 11, 2022
Steve Smith first hits a six and then immediately asks the umpire for a free hit saying New Zealand has one fielder short inside 30-yard circle pic.twitter.com/S7l4wYNLdt
— 𝓜𝓾𝓱𝓪𝓶𝓶𝓪𝓭 𝓙𝓾𝓷𝓪𝓲𝓭 𝓗𝓪𝓲𝓭𝓮𝓻 🇵🇰 (@silents3a) September 11, 2022
Go inside the mind of a genius as Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne talk through the mind-blowing passage where Smith spotted too many NZ fielders outside the circle in the third ODI. The man is next level 🤯#AUSvNZ | @alintaenergy pic.twitter.com/lJvZhIJfJd
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 12, 2022
Smith admitted after the match that he was nervous the Kiwi were going to rectify their mistake before he decided to take on Neesham and smash him for six.
"I saw third man was back, I think he was supposed to be up," Smith recalled about the incident.
"And I was like 'this is Christmas, it's a free hit'.
"And then I get a free hit after that if I hit it for six.
"I was looking, hoping that he (the fielder) wasn't going to run up because I knew he was out. I was looking around to make sure no one ran in quickly.
"I would have looked a bit stupid if I got out and he snuck into the circle."
"So I hit it and turned around straight away and he was out. I was like 'I've got another one here'".
Steve Smith ton helps Aussie seal 3-0 sweep
Smith combined superbly with Marnus Labuschagne (52 off 78) to steer the Aussies to a healthy total after more top order struggles from the home side.
Australia were initially dawdling at 2-19 from 10 overs when Finch and Josh Inglis fell early.
But Smith and Labuschagne got to work, the pair raising the bat within an over of each other. It was Smith's 28th ODI half-century and Labuschagne's fifth.
Smith then became just the third Australian to score an ODI century this year, after Travis Head and Ben McDermott, before Mitchell Santner ended his 131-ball stay in the 45th over.
Alex Carey (42no off 43) and Cameron Green (25no off 12) added valuable runs to set the Black Caps their stiff target.
New Zealand chased bravely with their openers flying out the gates and skipper Kane Williamson steady at the crease, with their middle order firing until the death.
But it all fell apart for the third consecutive game and they still remain winless in ODIs on Australian soil stretching back to 2009.
Following his series-leading knock, Smith said his departing captain's ODI career got the team performance it deserved.
"He's been a stalwart for this team for 10 years and he's done a terrific job and he's led the team exceptionally well," Smith said about Finch.
"It was a great finish and nice to sweep the series three-nil and send Finchy off that way."
Just like it had in the first two games, the loss of wickets at inopportune times cost the visitors dearly.
Their openers fell within three overs of each other, and when Tom Latham departed for 10 they'd lost 3-28.
The dangerous Daryl Mitchell top-edged to Smith after a brisk 16, and when Williamson was run out in a horror mix-up with Glenn Phillips, New Zealand were in trouble at 5-112.
Glenn Phillips and Neesham put together their best partnership of the series, but when Neesham departed their chase wilted. Ultimately, the Black Caps were dismissed for 242 off 49.5 overs.
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