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February 18, 2010
Of all the roles in international cricket, bowling legspin in one-day games must be one of the most stressful. Stuart MacGill's ODI career lasted three matches, Cameron White is now a batsman who prefers to stand at slip than at the bowling crease, and even Pakistan's Danish Kaneria, one of the best exponents of recent years, has been all but written off as a one-day player.
It's into this harsh environment that Steven Smith will step when he makes his ODI debut for Australia against West Indies at the MCG on Friday. The game is a dead rubber and he's only filling in for the resting Nathan Hauritz so the pressure might be down a notch, but that won't make him feel any more comfortable when Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard are staring at him from 22 yards.
Questions will race through his mind. Toss it up and try to dismiss them? Bowl quicker and flatter and try to constrain? Will I be dragged if I bowl a long hop? It's a lot for a 20-year-old to consider. Lucky for this 20-year-old that in December he was a standby player for the Boxing Day Test and spent time with Shane Warne in the MCG nets.
"When I was down here working with him I wasn't bowling too well at the start of the session," Smith said on the eve of his ODI debut. "By the end of it, the ball was coming out really good, I had good shape on the ball and I was getting a little bit of turn as well.
"I can't thank Shane enough. Since then the ball has been coming out really well and it's all coming together. I've gained a few different things from that. I've slowed my run-up down a little bit and I've got my shoulder a bit higher. It's quite hard to explain. It's a few little minor changes but it's worked pretty well so far."
Smith certainly didn't seem fazed by the pressure during his Twenty20 debut against Pakistan at the MCG this month. Michael Clarke handed him the ball at a crucial late stage of the chase and, in front of a big crowd and TV audience, he picked up two key wickets that helped Australia to victory.
He said the experience of playing in the Champions League Twenty20 final for New South Wales had helped his confidence and he felt good about where his cricket was heading. Smith is viewed as a potential member of Australia's squad for this year's ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies and he is keen to also push for Test selection in the future, although for now his best bowling results have come in the shorter formats.
"In 20-over bowling, my main goal is to sort of miss the middle of the bat," he said. "If you're missing the middle of the bat with them going so hard, you're always a chance of taking wickets. In the 50-over format it's changing your pace and trying to change your positions on the crease and change things like that as much as possible."
Adding to Smith's appeal is his power as a batsman. He has made two first-class centuries in 11 games, including one last week, and in his all-round capacity he resembles his Australia team-mate White. Like White at the same age, he is not yet ready to focus on either aspect of his game ahead of the other.
"I really enjoy both batting and bowling," Smith said. "I can't say I like one better than the other because I really enjoy being involved in the game as much as I can."
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