The Steve Smith era at opener has gotten off to a worrying start for Australia, with cricket greats Mark Waugh and Michael Vaughan claiming a technical flaw is behind the veteran batter's struggles. Smith was dismissed for just six runs in the first innings for the Aussies, who had to rely on the ever-dependable Usman Khawaja (75 runs) and lower order cameos from Alex Carey (65) and skipper Pat Cummins (64 not out) to get them out of a pickle against the visitors on day two at the Gabba.
Smith was among a number of top order batters to flop on day two against the Windies, with late hitting from Carey and Cummins propelling the hosts to 9-289, before the Aussie skipper declared 22 runs short of the visitors' first innings total of 311. The bold move from the Aussie skipper paid dividends as Josh Hazlewood picked up the wicket of Tagenarine Chanderpaul (4) to leave the Windies at 1-13 heading into day three.
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Speaking about Smith's inauspicious start to life as a Test opener, England cricket great Vaughan pointed to a potential flaw in the veteran's technique as a reason behind his struggles. Smith was trapped on the pads by Windies seamer Kemar Roach after shuffling across his stumps and getting his head out of position, in what has frequently left him vulnerable to LBW dismissals - particularly early on in his innings.
“You just look at his head position here, it was going over to the off side,” Vaughan said on Fox Cricket. “He gets LBW because of that movement.” Aussie Test legend Waugh agreed: “That premeditated movement before the ball is bowled is way too far to the off side. All his weight is falling that side.
“Your footwork’s all over the shop because your weight is going too far to the off side. He needs to have a look at that, because he’s getting into a position where he can’t adjust to the line of the ball.
"Those four balls are going to worry him."
Skull analyses Steve Smith's batting performance in Australia's first innings.
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“He’s losing all relevance to where his stumps are. He’s playing at balls outside off stump, and he’s nicked a few this summer that he doesn’t have to play at, that sixth stump line. He’s got to get a better idea of where his stumps are.”
Smith's first three innings as Australia's Test opener have yielded scores of 12, 11 not out and six, and the 34-year-old has now scored just 206 runs across five Test matches this summer at an average of 34.33. For a player of Smith's stature (he's still currently ranked third in the ICC Test batting standings), those numbers are a little worrying and have seen his red-ball average drop to 57.48 - his lowest since 2016.
The 34-year-old is on the verge of his least prolific home summer of Test cricket since 2010/11 when he only played three matches. Smith needs to surpass 54 runs in his second innings against the Windies to avoid that unwanted 13-year first and despite the criticism around his form and technique, is adamant he is still the right man to open for Australia.
Steve Smith says 'discipline' needs to improve
“I just need to be a little bit more disciplined,” Smith told reporters after day two in Brisbane. “That is one of the big parts of how I have played throughout my career. I have been pretty disciplined outside off stump. When I am disciplined and leaving well there, then I am batting well.”
Aussie wicketkeeper Carey said the team was fully behind Smith and also had "no concerns" around his move to opener. "He has been dismissed twice as an opener now and he is going to be dismissed a lot more as an opener," Carey said.
"He is one of the best batters in the world and he will find a way to score big hundreds. He has done it in really difficult situations before ... a big innings is coming up and hopefully it is in the second innings."
Adding to the headaches for Australia is the form of Cameron Green, who was recalled to the Test side at Smith's old position of No.4, following the retirement of David Warner. Green was out meekly chipping a catch to mid-off, with Australia falling to 5-54 before rallying to declare just 22 runs shy of the visitors' first innings total.
That followed a score of 11 in his only innings in Adelaide, with Green now averaging less than 20 since a maiden Test century in India last March. Green's lean form saw him eventually replaced by Mitchell Marsh during last year's Ashes. Selectors resisted a recall for any of specialist openers Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft or Marcus Harris, despite all presenting strong cases for another chance at the top of the order.
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