Steven Smith keen to shine
Eleven first-class wickets at over 75 isn't the best impression a young legspinner can leave in the land of Warne, and they aren't the most promising credentials to possibly make a Test debut with. But precisely that prospect awaits Steven Smith on Boxing Day at the MCG against Pakistan.
The 20-year old was drafted into the squad as cover for Nathan Hauritz, whose long-standing groin complaint may yet rule him out on Saturday morning. Mohammad Yousuf, predictably, was clueless when asked about him: "Steven Smith? Is he Australian?" But he can be forgiven, for few Australians will have heard much about him. Ricky Ponting, who might be captaining him tomorrow, hasn't faced a single ball from Smith, but is excited by the potential of the young NSW legspinner.
"Sometimes it can be an exciting thing when you see these young guys giving it a really good crack and seeing how they go," Ponting said. "I must admit I haven't faced a ball against him yet and probably a few guys [in the team] haven't faced him in state cricket. But he's impressed everybody with what he has done in all forms of the game over the last few months and that is exciting. We haven't really had young guys coming over the last few years into the Australian side and show what they've got. Quite often it's a good thing for young guys to get in and learn about themselves and learn about their game. If he gets an opportunity, there'll be no fear there from him. He'll really relish it."
A few full tosses in training betrayed nerves perhaps, but given Pakistan's poor track record against spin - of all kinds, shades and qualities - betting against some success if Smith does play would be foolish, even if he is just happy to be around the squad. "While I am very confident and hopeful Nathan Hauritz will be OK, if I was given the opportunity it would mean the world to me to play for Australia," Smith said. "Just to be noticed by the selectors is an unbelievable feeling and to spend some time around the squad before the Perth Test and now here in Melbourne has been absolutely brilliant.
"When I got the phone call last night from Michael Brown that they wanted me to come down as a standby player it was a huge surprise and really an early Christmas present. My family is very excited and if Nathan doesn't recover in time and I do get an opportunity to play they will certainly be coming down to watch. I know I will be doing everything I can to grab that opportunity with both hands."
Hauritz bowled in training on Friday and looked solid, according to Ponting; but his inclusion will depend on how he feels in the morning. "With Nathan it is a bit the same as me," said Ponting. "He is a whole lot better today in training than he was yesterday. He had a good solid bowl and put a lot more work on the ball and that is a good sign. But as we know with his injury over the last few weeks, it's been a day to day sort of thing with him, one day he feels great, next day he doesn't feel so good. Tomorrow morning will be an important time for him. We'll wait and see how he wakes up."
Australia have struggled to come to terms with the departure of Shane Warne in 2007, though no side in the world would replace him easily. They went through a number of different spinners in the last two years, before coming to an unspectacular, steady equilibrium of sorts with Hauritz. The prospect of Smith remains more exciting than the actuality currently, but Ponting believes in the fresh element of surprise he might bring.
"It's always nice to have young guys around the squad, particularly young spinners," Ponting said. "There is definitely a surprise element to him but with his batting, he is overall a very good package and we have seen him develop well in state cricket over the last 12 months. I'm sure he'd like [his first-class average] to be a lot less, and liked to have taken a lot more wickets. But he's an exciting young legspinner and that's where it lies with him. He hasn't played a lot of cricket but hopefully if he gets an opportunity to play for us, his Test record will be better than his first class at the end of the series."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo