Rocky start to post-Warner era for Australia’s top order


It has certainly not been a smooth transition into a new batting-order era for Australia. David Warner‘s Test retirement was always going to be a significant moment for the team and the knock-on effect was new roles for two players.

The path of least resistance would have been a like-for-like specialist opener replacing Warner and that being the only change. But there was a strong desire to get Cameron Green back in the side with the selectors believing, not without good reason, that he was among the best six batters in Australia. So then it became about finding positions for everyone.

After much persuasion from him, Steven Smith moved up to fill Warner’s position with Green returning to the side at No. 4. While a somewhat left-field solution, it was not quite as seismic as was sometimes portrayed despite Smith having never opened in Test or first-class cricket across a 16-year career. As Smith himself said, during one of the most prolific runs he had ever had in the 2019 Ashes, he barely had to wait to get to the crease so was facing a very new ball.

Still, this was a new role and within it some subtle shifts in what was required. Speaking before this Test, Smith was asked what he had done differently in Adelaide when opening for the first time. With a smile, he said the only thing was to leave the field for an over so that he could tie his shoelaces to his socks, which is part of how he kits himself up to bat.

Away from the fact it is such a Steven Smith thing to do (he doesn’t like to look down and see his laces) it was perhaps not insignificant because even when coming in early at No. 4, there’s more than ten minutes to get ready. Now, even though he has said he had not enjoyed waiting to bat of late, it is all a bit more of a rush. When Kevin Sinclair was stumped to end West Indies’ first innings at the Gabba, he was sprinting off with Alex Carey barely having completed the dismissal.

The confident pull first ball against Kemar Roach and the pleasing straight drive in the opening over were promising signs, although between them he was beaten by an outswinger. However, he then got himself into a horrid position, shuffling across the stumps, and was plumb lbw albeit the DRS was needed to confirm it.

While Smith clearly wanted the new challenge of opening, it has come at a time when his batting has not been at its peak. This season, his average now sits at 31.85. Things do not seem quite in sync. In Adelaide, the outside edge was found by Shamar Joseph as he shuffled across the crease, and now he’d been beaten on the inside by Roach. At his very best, deliveries on the stumps have been his meat and drink.

“I just need to be a little bit more disciplined,” he had said before the Test. “I have had a couple of nice balls that have just gone away from me but didn’t look like they were going away from me [and] have drawn me in. I think 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.”

When Marnus Labuschagne soon followed Smith, superbly caught by Sinclair at fourth slip, it meant an early entry for Green. For him, the challenge of the new role (although only at Test level) stems from a lack of recent cricket having carried the drinks against Pakistan. Before Adelaide, he’d had two first-class innings since being left out at the end of the Ashes in July, making 96 against Queensland in the Sheffield Shield and 46 against Pakistan for the Prime Minister’s XI.

He is being asked to resume his Test career from almost a cold start. In Adelaide, he did well to survive the first evening and began the second day with a brace of confident boundaries before edging behind against Shamar Joseph. Today, on a ground where he averaged 84.44 in first-class cricket before this match, and after one nicely timed boundary down the ground, he drove to mid-off. Since making his maiden century in Ahmedabad last March, he averages 17.33 in Tests.

That is not to say it was wrong to bring him back, but it highlights the challenges that came with the decision, and also why he has not been selected for the upcoming T20s against West Indies to try and get him a Sheffield Shield match before the two Tests in New Zealand.

Both Smith and Green could well have the chance for substantial second innings in this match, and if they make runs, the debate will quickly quieten down. And even if they don’t, there is unlikely to be a kneejerk reaction from the selectors, who will give things time to settle down although those two matches in New Zealand – against a good seam attack – would grow in significance. After that it is a long gap until India arrive in November. And that is not a series where you want question marks over a batting order.



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