Australia’s soon-to-be Test captain Steve Smith wants to lead by example with the bat – but that will not mean he curbs the type of attacking approach which saw him face only 12 deliveries in the entire Trent Bridge Ashes Test.
Smith knows his elevation to captain in place of the retiring Michael Clarke requires the endorsement of the Cricket Australia board. Nevertheless he is already – with good reason – mulling his plans for the team beyond the series-ending Oval Test. He cannot be too specific about them though because of the lack of clarity about how many of the current Ashes squad will be joining him for October’s tour of Bangladesh, given coach Darren Lehmann’s comments since the series loss to England that an overhaul of the team was probable.
“I’m not sure what the squad’s going to look like come Bangladesh . . . it’s completely different conditions, there could be some different guys on that tour to what there is here,” said Smith.
“I just think it’s really exciting for Australian cricket to see some new guys coming through. Hopefully they can make their mark on international cricket as well.”
Smith predicted the Tests in Bangladesh, their first there since April 2006, would be “tough”.
“It’s another place that is quite foreign to us as Australian batters . . . so we’re going to have to find ways to adapt to those conditions, like we haven’t done well here. Hopefully we can do that and have some success over there,” he said.
The captain-in-waiting did not resile from his pre-tour prediction that England would not “come close to us”. He instead returned to the proviso he attached to those comments he made to ESPNcricinfo: that Australia played “the way we have been playing over the last 12-18 months”.
“I think we haven’t played well, and England have played very well,” he said. “They’ve been really disciplined with their bowling, they make you earn your runs. Their batters know these conditions really well. They wait for the ball and when it’s not in the right spot they punish it. I think we can learn a lot from the way they played here, and hopefully next time we can replicate that in the way we play and we’ll have some success over here.”
Smith got good starts in each innings at Cardiff, and by the time he had scored 215 and 58 at Lord’s the pre-series predictions of retired England spinner Graeme Swann that his technique would not hold up to English conditions looked hollow. Since then, however, the 26-year-old has scored only 26 runs in four innings across the third and fourth Tests, which Australia lost to succumb to a fourth consecutive away Ashes series defeat.
Smith departed cheaply in each innings in Trent Bridge as England’s plans to tempt him into driving and cutting outside off-stump paid off spectacularly. In the first innings he crunched a square boundary from the second ball he faced and fell to his third. In the second he did the same from his second delivery, but when he attempted to replicate the shot from his ninth delivery he steered a catch to Ben Stokes, who had been placed at cover point in the hope he would.
While Smith conceded he probably should have left the first-innings delivery he edged to third slip, on length more so than line, he defended his decision to seek to punish early deliveries in each innings, which he did successfully, and then attempting to replicate that in the second innings to the Stuart Broad delivery he fell to.
“If you get a loose ball, you have to hit it,” he said. “I hit two half-volleys for four and the one that I got out to in the second innings was pretty much the same. It was there to hit for four, I just didn’t execute it well. My weight was a bit back . . . that’s something I’m trying to work on with my technique, to get my weight going forward. It’s something that is pretty crucial here in England on the slower wickets as well.”
Smith’s contentment about his approach in each innings in Nottingham was slightly contrasted by declaring his time in England had underlined the importance of “trying to get yourself in, be really patient at the start of your innings, be really watchful and try and play the ball under your eyes”.
“In Australia we’re taught to play out in front a little bit more than here . . . you have to really wait for the ball here in England,” he said.
Australia’s batting has been roundly criticised over the past two Tests. Smith said one aspect of playing in England he had found particularly difficult was the unique – compared to their opponents – ability of each of England’s fast-bowlers to swing the ball both ways. Swinging the ball in both directions has been a hallmark of Jimmy Anderson’s career, while in his absence all-rounder Ben Stokes moved it prodigiously at Trent Bridge.
“It makes it a lot harder to bat against when the ball is swinging both ways. I think when you look at our bowlers they all swing [but] it just the one way,” he said. “I think when you’ve got the ball swinging both ways you can get drawn into balls that perhaps you wouldn’t play at back home or if the ball is swinging just the one way.”
Smith said the way he captained Australia in the last three Tests against India last summer, when Clarke was injured, would be replicated if, as is assured, his elevation is approved by the CA board.
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