Katich backs Smith as Test prospect
Steven Smith's state captain Simon Katich is confident the legspinning allrounder will be ready for Test cricket if he gets his opportunity at Lord's against Pakistan next month. Nathan Hauritz has been forced home from Australia's tour with a foot injury and is unlikely to be fit for the Tests, which leaves Smith as the sole spinner in the squad.
The Australian selectors are understandably excited by Smith, who at 21 already has four first-class centuries to his name, is a miraculous fielder and an improving bowler. The major question-mark over Smith as a potential Test player is the quality of his legspin, which has brought him 26 wickets in first-class cricket at an average of 48.84.
They are hardly the sort of figures that will strike fear into Test batsmen. But Katich, who will be one of Smith's Test team-mates if he is handed a baggy green at Lord's, said Smith had taken major steps in his bowling last summer and his season-ending effort for New South Wales of 7 for 64 against South Australia at the SCG was a terrific sign.
"He blew us all away with the way he knocked South Australia over on one afternoon of cricket," Katich, who is in England playing for Lancashire, told Cricinfo. "At one stage they were cruising at 2 for 180 and then in an hour's time they were all out and we'd finished the season.
"It was phenomenal bowling and the way he was getting his wickets was great - big spinning legspinners caught and slip and bat pad and bowled - genuine wickets, not through bad shots or anything. He just went through them with great bowling. That was exciting to see him make a statement."
That display alone meant Smith had already bettered the first-class bowling best of Cameron White, to whom he is often compared as a useful legspinner and powerful batsman. White was chosen as a bowler in all four Tests on Australia's tour of India in 2008, yet in 108 first-class appearances he has only ever taken two five-wicket hauls.
Smith has spoken about the value of his one-on-one training with Shane Warne during the Australian summer, when he was first called in to the Test squad as cover. Since then he has firmly established himself in Australia's Twenty20 squad and over the next few weeks has the chance to make his name as a one-day and Test player.
"There's been a lot of talk about who's going to be the next big thing spinning-wise in Australia," Katich said. "That's a lot of pressure for the young guys coming through. The way he progressed through the summer, when he was in and around the Test squad at various stages and spent time with Warney ... his bowling went to another level after those sessions.
"He's a confident player and he's prepared to listen and learn. He's got a very bright future in front of him. Whether he gets an opportunity or not [in the Tests] we'll wait and see, but if the wickets are dry and they spin, then he could come into calculations. There's no doubt that he's gaining confidence being in and around the Australian setup. You can see his improvement all the time."
If Smith does make his debut next month, he will be the eighth spinner Australia have tried in Tests since the retirement of Warne just over three years ago. Of those, Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill have retired, Beau Casson is struggling for a place with New South Wales, Jason Krejza has fallen away for Tasmania, Bryce McGain is performing solidly but is 38, and White rarely bowls for Victoria.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo