Ponting warns Smith of hard work ahead
Steven Smith is on the verge of becoming Australia's newest Test spinner but his captain Ricky Ponting believes Smith's bowling still has plenty of room for improvement after a disappointing tour match in Derby. Although Ponting is confident Smith can put in a strong performance at Lord's, he had some concerns after the legspinner was handled with ease by Derbyshire's batsmen last week.
Smith collected 1 for 87 from 24 overs and his only wicket came late in the innings, after he struggled to find the right line and length for much of Friday. Pakistan have given Australian spinners plenty of wickets in recent years - Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Nathan Hauritz all have lower averages against Pakistan than overall - but it will be a big challenge for Smith to replicate those results.
"Smithy has got a bit of work to do with his bowling yet," Ponting said on Sunday. "He probably didn't get out of the [Derby] game what he wanted the other day. He was a little bit off the mark there but you can understand that with a young guy playing his first game for Australia, a bit nervous and wanting to impress and wanting to do everything right.
"We've worked a bit with him today on that, mainly on just the line that he bowled. I thought he bowled a little bit too straight to the right-handers down at Derby and got picked off through the leg-side a bit too much, so we've worked on that today [and on] a few other little things that will hopefully help him out."
Although Smith will be chosen primarily as a bowler, he will offer some serious batting depth at No. 8 and should provide a spark in the field. Ponting doesn't believe Smith will be overawed by the occasion of becoming Australia's 415th Test player - Tim Paine will be regarded as the 414th - despite his below-par bowling in the warm-up game.
"He's a great kid to have around," Ponting said. "He's very aggressive and you can see in the way he bats that's pretty much the attitude he has with all of his cricket. If he does get that opportunity to play I think he'll acquit himself nicely."
Shane Warne is another who believes there is much room for improvement in Smith. Warne would have preferred Smith to gain greater first-class experience before making his Test debut, but he is confident that Smith has all the deliveries a legspinner needs.
"I think he has all the toys," Warne told the Courier-Mail. "But he is pretty raw and is a work in progress is nowhere near the finished product. He will almost certainly have some good days and some bad days. He will have to learn his craft on the run, while playing Test cricket. That is pretty difficult to do. But as long as he is patient with developing slowly I am okay with that. "
Regardless of how Smith is handled by Pakistan, Ponting expects to draw on his part-time spinners for plenty of overs during the two Tests. It's rare to see Simon Katich send down many deliveries in the nets but at Lord's on Sunday he was given a long stint with the ball, and had his New South Wales team-mate Usman Khawaja noticeably perplexed.
Katich's left-arm wrist-spin has been used sparingly in recent years, but he has a knack of collecting wickets and since the start of 2009 has taken eight at an average of 17.25, having been called on in only six Tests. Given Pakistan's poor record against Australian spinners over the past couple of decades, Katich could be a useful weapon.
"The only reason he hasn't bowled much in the last couple of years is he's had a bad shoulder ," Ponting said. "But since he's been here in England he's actually bowled a bit more than normal and his shoulder feels good, so whenever he's feeling good we'll try to get what overs out of him that we can.
"I think him and [Marcus] North will both bowl quite a bit in the series, just for the sheer fact we've got a lot of guys coming back from [injury]. Mitch has come back from a pretty long lay-off and Hilfenhaus from injury, so we'd better look after the quicks and be mindful of how much they are doing through the series."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo