Steve Smith bounced back to form and played a heroic knock on the final day of the second Test between Australia and the West Indies, falling agonisingly short of guiding his side to victory. But questions are being asked about whether he did enough to protect Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood with the game on the line.
Lyon came to the crease at 8-175, with Australia still requiring 41 runs for victory. Smith showed his faith in the off-spinner's batting ability, letting him face all the deliveries he wanted and not worrying about farming the strike.
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When Lyon was dismissed for nine it was 9-191, with Smith and the Aussies still 25 away from victory. With No.11 batter Hazlewood at the crease, Smith decided he needed to take the majority of the strike and keep Hazlewood from facing too many balls.
But the West Indies put almost every fielder back on the fence, making it difficult for Smith to hit boundaries or twos. He did manage to play one brilliant scoop over the fine-leg boundary for six, and got Australia to within eight of victory.
But the final three overs of the match saw Smith allow Hazlewood to face the last two deliveries of each. If Smith didn't get off strike he ran the risk of Hazlewood having to face all six balls of the next over, so he let the No.11 face two balls instead.
Hazlewood managed to survive the first two overs bowled by Shamar and Alzarri Joseph, but Shamar knocked over his off-stump on the first ball he faced in the third. Smith was left stranded at the non-striker's end on 91 not out as Shamar and the Windies celebrated wildly.
While conventional wisdom suggests Smith did the right thing, many were left questioning if he left Hazlewood exposed too often by making him face two balls of each over. Some suggested that Smith either should have looked to win the match earlier by going for more boundaries, or wait until the final ball of the over to scamper a single and get back on strike.
Former AFL player Will Schofield wrote on social media: "As good as Steve Smith's innings was, didn’t do enough to protect the bowlers late in the innings. That was so good to watch!"
Another person wrote: "From an Aussie POV I really didn’t feel good about Smith giving Hazlewood two balls against a bowler carrying the spirit of prime Ambrose, though. Would have even preferred seeing out the over and relying on Hazlewood getting off strike or surviving vs the other Joseph.)" A third commented: "Two balls are one ball too many for Hazlewood to be facing against Shamar and Smith kept repeating this mistake."
As good as Steve Smiths innings was, didn’t do enough to protect the bowlers late in the innings.
That was so good to watch!
— Will Schofield (@WillSchofield) January 28, 2024
Great innings by Smith but I don’t know why he left Hazlewood to face two balls when the kid was bowling 150km/h.
— Joshua Bell (@The_Inside_Word) January 28, 2024
Two balls are one ball too many for Hazlewood to be facing against Shamar and Smith kept repeating this mistake.
— The Armchair Critic (@DArmChairCritic) January 28, 2024
All on Smith now. Can't give Hazlewood more than a ball or two each over #ausvwi
— Matt (@Mattys123) January 28, 2024
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME STEVE SMITH GIVING THE STRIKE TO JOSH HAZLEWOOD FOR THE LAST TWO BALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME IN THREE OVERS???#AUSvWI
— Kris (@krisbot) January 28, 2024
Smith deserves any negative feedback for exposing hazlewood to the last two balls of 3 overs in a row and didn't protect Lyon at all took singles off the first ball of overs some of the dumbest finishing batting of recent memory
— Brad Quinlan (@BradQuinlan1987) January 28, 2024
Pat Cummins not happy with Australia's batting after loss
According to captain Pat Cummins, some of the Aussie batters will have regrets about how they got out. Joseph took seven wickets in the second innings to lead the Windies to their first Test win in Australia since 1997.
From 2-113 they lost 8-94, with Cameron Green (42), Travis Head (0), Mitch Marsh (10), Alex Carey (2), Mitchell Starc (21) and Cummins (2) all dismissed in an incredible 10-over spell in the first session on Sunday. Head's dismissal gave him a king pair (two golden ducks in one match) and made it four dismissals in his last four balls faced in Tests at the Gabba.
"You've got to find a way to get yourself into your innings and I'm sure a couple of batters will look at a couple of ways they were dismissed," Cummins said afterwards. "They outplayed us, they played brilliantly.
"There was a lot of the talk coming in about their debutants ... but they've created a couple of new superstars we didn't know about. As a cricket fan, a Test match cricket fan, there's a part of me that was happy to watch."
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