Smith dreams of following Warne's footsteps
Seventeen years ago, an Australian legspinner walked out for his first Test match on English soil and promptly delivered the ball of the century. Steven Smith was four when Shane Warne entered cricket folklore by ripping a legbreak the width of Mike Gatting, and next month Smith could become the first Australian legspinner to play a Test in England post-Warne.
Nathan Hauritz has flown home with a foot injury and unless he enjoys a miraculously quick recovery, Smith is in line to make his Test debut against Pakistan at Lord's. He has spent plenty of time around the Test squad, having been called in as cover in Perth and Melbourne last summer before touring with the team in New Zealand.
On Saturday, Smith sat in the pavilion at Old Trafford, the venue of Warne's most famous moment, and briefly pondered the possibility of winning a baggy-green. Although he was keen to focus on the more immediate challenges of Australia's stuttering one-day series, he said joining the elite ranks of Australia's Test cricketers would be a magic moment.
"It's a different standard," Smith said of Test cricket. "It's the highest level you can play at. At the moment, Pakistan are a good side, and if I get the opportunity to play in a couple of weeks it will be a dream come true to wear the baggy green. I'm not really thinking too far ahead, it's just about playing my best cricket at the moment and trying to win a couple of one-day games and get back in this series."
If a Test call-up does arrive, Smith should be in a positive frame of mind. He finished the domestic season with a seven-wicket Sheffield Shield haul for New South Wales, having also scored four hundreds in the tournament and finished sixth on the run tally.
Then came the New Zealand tour, which was followed by an impressive World Twenty20 campaign, in which he ousted Hauritz as Australia's preferred slow bowler and finished third on the wicket list behind Dirk Nannes and Charl Langeveldt. Throw in a solid combination of 41 with the bat and 1 for 40 with the ball on Thursday, in his second ODI, and Smith feels good about the state of his cricket.
"Everything is coming together pretty well," he said. "I learnt a lot about myself as a player in the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies. It was a big learning curve for me and coming back and playing one-day cricket, it's always been a dream of mine to play for Australia."
It's hard to predict what he will show in Test cricket, if given the opportunity. As a precocious, confident Australian legspinner, the Warne comparisons are inevitable, but Smith is a vastly different player.
He might not have the ripping legbreak or perfect flipper, but could Warne bat in the top six at Test level? Could Warne hare around the boundary rope and take one-handed screamers time after time? Smith had some tuition from Warne during the Australian season, but doesn't expect his bowling to leave quite the same mark as Warne did on his first trip to England.
"He hasn't taught me that one yet," Smith joked of Warne's Gatting delivery. "Hopefully it will come in at some point. Warney was probably the reason I started bowling legspin when I was about 14. I've had a few sessions with him and he's been great for me."
Judging by Smith's form over the past six months, he's right about Warne's influence. Now to start making his own mark.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo