There is an old rugby joke which also serves to underline the utter superiority of one Steven Peter Devereux Smith, Australian cricket captain and the best batsman in the world.

The All Blacks, vintage 1970s, were playing the Barbarians - so the joke goes - and were up 30-0 at halftime. Things were going so well and the opposition so unable to resist, the All Blacks skipper decided the rest of the side could repair to the pub, leaving Bryan Williams and Grant Batty to see out the match.

When they returned to catch the final whistle, they were shocked to see a 30-28 scoreline. "Beegee, what happened?" inquired an upset captain. "It was all going well," the All Black wing replied, "until Batts got sent off."

You could easily adapt that joke, with all the Australian team heading to the pub, leaving Smith to play England on his own for the Ashes, so dominant has he been in this series.


Such jokes, and the belittling of the opposition, is what sometimes earns us the label of "arrogant" as rugby fans. But such hubris often stems from actual performance and Smith has that. In his six innings in this series before the Sydney test, he scored 604 runs at an average of 151.

It's spurred inevitable comparisons with Sir Don Bradman - a pointless exercise we shall glance to fine leg. Bradman is Bradman, like Ali is Ali - the greatest; no comparisons need be made.

Some time ago, our own Martin Crowe predicted the four top batsmen in the world would be Smith, India's Virat Kohli, England's Joe Root and Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson; it's there comparisons can be made.

In the last two calendar years, Smith has batted 38 times in tests, making 2467 runs with nine centuries and eight 50s, at an average of 77.09 - well above his career average of 63.55, showing his growing influence.

Williamson has batted 28 times (New Zealand, sadly, play fewer tests) for 1319 runs, at an average of 52.76 - a little ahead of his career average of 50.62. He has four centuries and seven 50s in that time; Smith's conversion rate is much better.

Kohli has had 34 innings, scoring 2274 runs at 75.8 in the same period (including six double centuries, three centuries and three 50s, well ahead of his career average of 53.75). If you can't snare the flamboyant Indian early (as New Zealand did in 2016), he tends to make big, big scores. Root has had 51 innings (five centuries and 17 50s) for a total of 2443 runs at 49.85 - below his career average of 52.45.

The Australian has also become the second-fastest batsman in history to 6000 test runs, doing it in 111 innings, the same as Gary Sobers (Bradman took 68, enough said).

Williamson, Root and Kohli aren't at the 6000-run mark yet but have already had 113, 117 and 106 test innings respectively - meaning only Kohli can beat Smith, though he will need to score 727 test runs in his next four innings (he scored 5 against South Africa last week); unlikely. Ross Taylor, as a further guide, passed 6000 runs after 145 innings.

But cricket is about far more than stats. Style and flair come into it and no matter how much you admire him, Smith could never be described as an attractive batsman, at least in the orthodox sense.

He doesn't have movie star looks - with his baggy green on, he resembles a bit of a Toby Jug; his face often seems assembled from spare parts from other people. When batting, he wanders about in the crease with his back-and-across move, often exposing his stumps.

It is an ugly but highly interesting style; somehow, thankfully, he escaped the attentions of the gurus trying to conform him to the coaching manual. Smith's amazing eye means it doesn't matter where the bat comes from, as long as it strikes the ball the right way - and it does, boy, does it.

It means he has the world's best defence, able to adjust to the ball, the conditions, everything. He has every shot in the book and then some and knows when to use 'em. That was demonstrated in two startlingly different knocks for a century in Brisbane (141 not out) on a low, slow pitch where he was able to guts it out, conservatively deciding not to drive the ball and persuading England to bowl straight, whereupon he tucked much of it to leg - working the ball rather than attacking it.

In Perth (229 not out), the bounce meant the ball was easier to time; he unleashed a full range of drives and cuts. Brisbane was his slowest test century; Perth his fastest. England have thrown everything at him except Nelson's Column but he has been just as immovable.

In days past, friends and colleagues played a pub game: choose the cricketer to bat for your life. I always selected Allan Border, the gritty left-hander who defined Australian cricket pugnacity.

Might be time for a new pick.