Australia in New Zealand 2009-10 March 10, 2010

The Steven Smith question


What is Steven Smith? Until Michael Clarke's latest adventure into the gossip pages it was the question in Australian cricket. It is also a familiar one that is often wondered about Cameron White. Are they legspinners who are handy batsmen, or the other way around?

Australia's selectors see Smith as an allrounder in every aspect, with the chairman Andrew Hilditch saying the 20-year-old was picked in the Test squad for New Zealand because of his "exciting stroke-play, legspin bowling and gifted fielding". The absence of a glowing adjective before "legspin bowling" appears intentional.

Smith is having regular tutorials with Shane Warne and was called into the Test squad at home when Nathan Hauritz was in doubt in Perth and Melbourne. He has debuted in both Twenty20s and ODIs and delivered cool spells under pressure, but he has been picked in the Test squad with a first-class bowling average of 62.26. Like White, Smith has one major deficiency as a legspinner: he doesn't have a big-turning ball.

That weakness ruled out White as a slow bowler after four Tests in India in 2008 when the selectors tried to manufacture a long-term weapon. He has barely been used in a game since. It is no fun following the era of Warne and Stuart MacGill, who could turn it square.

"Smith is a batsman without the big legbreak needed for Tests," Kerry O'Keeffe told Cricinfo. "He tends to find a way to winkle batsmen out. I applaud the selection. He can make runs at No.6 and be eased into the side and develop his bowling further so he can be used as a second spinner behind Hauritz."

O'Keeffe, who played 24 Tests as a legspinner in the 1970s, said Smith had a greater feel for slow bowling than White, who began his career tagged as the next Warne. "I see Smith as a No.6 who offers much more with the ball than Michael Clarke or Simon Katich," he said.

Terry Jenner, another former Test legspinner, said in December Smith was not ready for Test action, calling his initial squad selection "bewildering" and "illogical". "When he gets everything right he has a magnificent leg break, and he's still working through that," Jenner said. "He can't be consistent yet because he's only a kid."

O'Keeffe and Jenner have watched a string of spinners with potential be washed away since Warne retired, including Dan Cullen, Cullen Bailey, Jason Krejza and Beau Casson. Smith has two ways of getting into the side for next week's first Test in Wellington: wriggling in ahead of the out-of-form Marcus North or replacing Clarke if he stays at home. The second option is extremely unlikely and the incumbent North is expected to have another chance to secure his place.

With the bat Smith can be a brute and he has excelled in all forms this season. Last week he scored 177 for New South Wales in Hobart to convince Hilditch and Co he was ready. After adding 72 not out against South Australia at the SCG on Wednesday he took his Sheffield Shield tally to a mightily impressive 744 at 82.66.

"As an old fuddy-duddy, I worry about the batting technique with White and Smith when the ball does a bit," O'Keeffe said. "The technique they have has shortcomings when the ball darts around, but that only happens once a year." Smith will be analysed heavily whatever he does.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 15, 2010, 0:41 GMT

    Let's assume for one moment that the selectors have some measure of sanity, that their eye for a talent is as good as ours. If truly believe in Smith as a future world beater, there is no better time to pick him than now.

    Based on recent form alone there's no one who deserves to be picked more than he does, and his confidence is sky high.

    Meanwhile, the next 2 test series this year are against NZ, whose attack is mediocre without Bond, and Pakistan, whose attack has great potential but who are in a shambles.

    Give him a few relatively easy games to get him in. If he settles, stays and performs in the Ashes, we've got no. 6 sorted for the forseeable future.

    The one thing I'd be concerned about is how they use him as a bowler. They'll want him to reach his potential, while not asking too much of him when he's not ready in that respect.

    So for me, he should be picked ahead of North in an identical role: a batsman who can bowl a bit of spin.

  • Matt on March 12, 2010, 19:05 GMT

    White is not test class, bowlers like Harmy,Steyn and Morkel would sort him out.He's OK at one day and smashin medium pace fairies.North deserves a longer run in the side now he's been given the chance or not picked at all.

  • Anthony on March 11, 2010, 12:13 GMT

    Give Steve Smith a go, North has not performed well enough in the last few months in any cricket. If the team cannot handle being without North for the next few tests then they need to rethink their mental strength.

    I agree that Cameron White should be given an opportunity but he did not get selected.

    Why does Hughes HAVE TO BE AN OPENER? From what i have seen of him he could be a number 3 or 6 (remember when Ponting spent some time at 6).

    Ponting, Hussey and Katich are not going to be around much longer and by the time they have all gone is North really going to be the Senior Batsman Australia needs.

  • mohsin on March 11, 2010, 12:10 GMT

    i think it's too early to throw hum in test arena.he leaked a lot of runs in the odi match he played that also against west indies which is struggling against zimbabwe.i think selectors should have waited for some more time to include him in the test squad .

  • Dominic on March 11, 2010, 6:16 GMT

    He's a clone of Cameron White in every way and he's an overused bowler for NSW. He is very innacurate and doesn't turn the ball a great deal. I think his batting alone is the best thing about him. Perhaps he should replace Marcus North if his form continues to drop.

  • Online on March 11, 2010, 6:09 GMT

    Jonkerr7: The selection panel is *very inconsistent* with their comments regarding cricket, unfortunately, and thus it is very difficult to pinpoint precisely its goals (obviously when they have their eyes on certain players, they don't let them go easily; you'll see Smith and Hughes around for a while whether you like it or not). Sometimes it is possible to take matters "out of the selectors hands"; that's probably how Michael Hussey got selected in the first place, by putting mountainous run tallies on the board in the domestic arena. Though Cameron White is in great ODI form, the selectors could simply argue that they don't know what his test form is like and omit him. It seems that his only entry into the test team is to take matters out of the selectors hands (however difficult), because there is a long queue forming ahead of him: Hughes, Smith, etc. The selectors have stereotyped Hughes as "Matthew Hayden" and Smith as "Shane Warne", and they'll definitely not let go easily.

  • Nadaisha on March 11, 2010, 1:33 GMT

    Rahul Salian, Brad Hodge is retired from the 4-5 day game. However I still agree that Australia have a multitude of gifted experienced players such as David Hussey orMichael Klinger ( although he's not as experienced as Hussey). However i believe that Australia are developing a policy of picking young and budding players to lead the team into the future, and Smith is certainly one of them how come players such as Usman Khawaja and Dan Christian have not been considered?

  • Jon on March 11, 2010, 1:26 GMT

    onlinegamer55; re your comment about Cam White not playing 1st class forgot Andrew Hilditch saying before last season started that International One Day form in India was just as good or better than 1st Class cricket in Australia. How can White prove his mettle in the shield when he has been playing for Australia, at a much higher standard according to the Chairman? Smith's selection is a joke - good enough to bat at 6? I watched the shield hundred against Victoria's 3rd string attack and he was very very lucky - dropped twice, played and missed a lot and attempted big hits miscued. White has proven himself over many seasons of 1st Class cricket here and in England, and now at International level - more NSW bias

  • Billy on March 11, 2010, 1:16 GMT

    I personally think David Hussey would be wasted at Number 6 but I suppose the incumbents in the other positions are too strong at the moment. If I was a selector, I would pick Hussey because he is a better batsmen, but Smith offers a little bit more in terms of the all-round ability.

  • Billy on March 10, 2010, 23:16 GMT

    To answer the writer's inital question: Steve Smith is a handy No.6 batsmen who can bowl leg-spin. If you analyse his technique, it is not yet good enough for Test level. The leg spinner at test level must have one of three key attributes to be successful:

    1. The big-turning leg break as a stock delivery (Warne and Macgill) 2. Zip and variation (Kumble) 3. Wicket taking wrong-uns, flippers etc. (Qadir)

    The great leg spinners (mentioned above) can combine the key attributes, along with accuracy and consistency. Steve Smith at the moment has none of these attributes. His shoulder rotation and wrist position does not allow him to turn the ball enough, and he has not learned to add the zip that comes with a quick run-up and delivery stride. These things can be learned though and he is a good enough bat at No.6. And he is clearly a better spinner than Katich and Clarke. Therefore, why not give him a go.

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