Though Australia’s 2019-20 series against New Zealand was a comfortable victory for the hosts, it also featured some of the most difficult spells that Steven Smith has ever had to endure on his way to being regarded as the pre-eminent Test batsman.
Time and again, the irrepressible Neil Wagner zinged down precision bouncers at Smith, drastically slowing his scoring even as he played the supporting role in some critical partnerships with Marnus Labuschagne in particular. Never in his Test career had Smith scored as slowly as the strike rate of a little more than 34 runs per 100 balls he was corralled into by New Zealand, but ahead of his first Test match meetings with Jasprit Bumrah, he has challenged India to match Wagner’s unique array of skills.
Smith went as far as to say that resorting to a short-pitched attack was a form of “flattery’ in that it came with an effective admission that opponents have run out of either patience or method to dismiss him by more conventional means. Certainly the kind of exasperation experienced by England during the 2019 Ashes led logically to the New Zealand approach, and even some of the more lateral fields Virat Kohli set for India during a limited-overs series at the start of this year.
“Looking back at the last Test series, Neil Wagner got the better of me, he’s pretty good at what he does, he possesses a set of skills that not many people can do and he does it for a long period of time,” Smith said. “While I had some contributions, my strike rate was down, but Test cricket, that’s the beauty of it, you can bat for as long as you like and form partnerships and I was able to do that.
“So if others want to take that kind of approach then great. It’s not the same as what Neil does, the way he bowls it. I think what you’re alluding to is a short-pitched bowling sort of approach that others might take, and people can go for that. In a way it’s a bit of flattery if people believe that the only way they can get me out because they’ve exhausted so many more options, it gives me a lot of confidence to know that.”
Asked to explain Wagner’s method in more detail, and why it would be hard for others such as Bumrah to copy it, Smith said it came down to the left-armer’s ability to make subtle variations of pace, length and line without ever diverting far from a very awkward zone for batsmen. “You look at Neil Wagner’s career, the way he bowls, I think he’s the No. 2 Test bowler in the world or something like that [No. 3] and you see the majority of wickets he’s got are from short-pitched bowling and the way they set that field up,” he said.
“He’s really patient and he’s able to do it all day. There’s not too many quick bowlers who can run in and bowl bouncers all day, and I guess the way Neil does it is particularly special. He gets balls between shoulder and rib height, he’s incredibly accurate, and then he’s got an ability to change his pace. I think that was one of the hardest things the guys, not just me but some of the other guys as well coped with last year, was he’d bowl one ball at 135kph, next ball would be 128, the next ball would be 130 and then 135.
“It was just tough to get a real rhythm against because balls were coming out at different paces. So I think he’s got a pretty unique set of skills, the way he does it. He’s done it to not just me but to plenty of batsmen around the world. It’s different to when anyone else has tried to do it.”
Smith’s record against India is of the kind to cause plenty of additional planning meetings for the tourists: across the past two series he has played at home in 2014-15 and then away in 2017, he has scored 1268 runs at 97.53 with no fewer than seven centuries.
“I think big series, I try and stand up and try and get the best out of myself,” he said. “And whether it be an Ashes series or an Indian series. They’re the two biggest for us as Australian cricketers. Whether there’s just more inside me that comes out, I’m not sure.
“I think it also comes down to, and you can get into rhythms against bowlers. Quite often the first Test or the first game of the series, I’ve started really well against India and I’ve been able to get into a bit of rhythm and it’s probably helped me through the rest of the series. It’s something to do with it.”
Ishant Sharma gets stitches on bowling hand, but ‘expected to recover in time’ for England Tests
The fast bowler hurt himself while trying to stop a Ross Taylor drive on the last day of the WTC final
Sharma tried to stop a drive from Ross Taylor in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the final. He left the field with his hand bleeding, having bowled only two balls in his seventh over, with Jasprit Bumrah completing it.
“Ishant has had multiple stitches on his middle and fourth finger in his right hand. However, it is not very serious,” a BCCI official was quoted as saying by PTI. “The stitches will be off in around ten days and with six weeks left for the first Test against England, he is expected to recover in time.”
The Indian team is having a break of three weeks after the conclusion of the WTC final, which New Zealand won by eight wickets.
“The squad travelled together to London. From here they can all leave for their respective destinations within the UK for a 20-day break,” the official said.
However, once the team reassembles in London on July 14 and proceeds to Nottingham, they are unlikely to get warm-up first-class games against English county sides. They will instead play intra-squad games at the Riverside ground in Durham.
“Well, that doesn’t depend on us. We obviously wanted first-class games, which I believe have not been given to us,” Kohli had said. “I don’t know what the reasons for that are. But yeah, other than that I think our preparation time will be ample for us to be ready for the first Test.”
While it is understood that the BCCI had requested the ECB for a few practice games, the Covid-19 situation won’t allow any such plan to go ahead.
“Due to Covid-19 protocols, they will play two intra-squad four-day matches before the first Test in August,” an ECB spokesperson told PTI on Friday. Asked if there is any chance of a game against county sides, the spokesperson said, “No”.
In England, cricketers from various counties are regularly being tested for Covid-19 but are not being kept in any bubble. But the Indian team would again be in a bubble once they move to Durham.
“The domestic cricketers of England not being in a bubble is an issue for sure. That’s why the games in Durham will be intra-squad ones,” the BCCI official said.
India are currently travelling with 24 players – 20 in the official squad and four reserves – which would thus allow them to play intra-squad games.
Eng vs SL 2021 – Jos Buttler ruled out of Sri Lanka white-ball series with calf injury
Dawid Malan added to ODI squad after MRI scans reveal small calf tear
Buttler, England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper, scored an unbeaten 68 opening the batting in the first T20I. According to the ECB, he “felt tightness and discomfort” at the end of the game and was sent for an MRI scan on Thursday morning, which revealed a small tear. He sat out the second T20I, which England won by five wickets.
England had already suggested they may use the Sri Lanka T20Is to experiment, with Jonny Bairstow moving up to open in Buttler’s absence – although he made a three-ball duck as England initially struggled in their chase of 112. Liam Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 helped secure victory, regularly opens in T20 cricket and could also deputise.
Dawid Malan, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter, has been added to the ODI squad, with Bairstow and Sam Billings in contention to take the gloves in the 50-over format. Billings scored his maiden ODI hundred last summer and would have been vying for a middle-order berth, regardless of Buttler’s availability.
“In terms of ODIs I had a really good summer last year and averaged 83 in that format so I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t get a gig but this team is a very hard one to get into to,” he said.
England have already secured the T20I series ahead Saturday’s third match, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The teams will then play three ODIs, at Chester-le-Street, The Oval and Bristol.
ENG vs SL 2nd T20I – Mickey Arthur on England and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s head coach said he wants the batsmen to be more proactive against a world-class England attack
“Just not enough runs again,” Arthur told the BBC, when asked for his take on his side’s defeat. “We’re coming up against a really good bowling attack. They’re ranked No. 1 in the world, we’re ranked No. 9, and you can see the difference. We’ve started a journey with a young team and for us it’s about getting better, competing, learning from every game and every experience and getting better and better as we go along.
“It’s tough. We’re consistently talking about freedom, about taking the handbrake off as a batting unit. But you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to and I thought England were world-class with the lengths they hit. They put us under a lot of pressure with the bat.
“We can be more proactive and we’ve got to go back and work on that. We can walk around the crease a little bit more and try to do different things but our batters are learning all the time, particularly in these conditions. We’ve got a really exciting batting unit in our conditions but it’s about transferring those skills to conditions outside our own environment.”
“I thought we bowled really well,” he said. “Our fielding has gone up to another level. Fielding is all about attitude, it’s measurable, and I think the guys are getting better and better with that. We’re really excited with our bowling unit and we’ve got a couple of guys that are injured as well, so when we get them back we’ll be good.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Soccer4 days ago
Euro 2020, European Championships 2021, news, Billy Gilmour COVID-19, coronavirus, Ousmane Dembele, update, injury
Cricket9 hours ago
Australia in West Indies 2021
MLB3 days ago
New York Mets OF Michael Conforto returning Tuesday; Joey Lucchesi set for Tommy John surgery
MLB3 days ago
Cleveland Indians expect MLB wins leader Aaron Civale to miss time with finger injury
Soccer3 days ago
England star Jack Grealish passes Man City transfer test with Czech Republic masterclass
Soccer3 days ago
England player ratings vs Czech Republic: Trio stake claim for potential France clash
Motorsport3 days ago
Daniel Ricciardo speaks McLaren, Lando Norris, and missing Australia
MLB12 hours ago
Follow live: Red Sox's Nick Pivetta working on no-hitter at Tampa