Pakistan v Australia, 2nd Test, Headingley, 3rd day July 23, 2010

North's star dims as Smith shines

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Steven Smith's breathless 77 presumably won't save Australia in this match, but it has given a tantalising taste of what he can bring to Test cricket. There has never been any doubt that Smith has something special about him, though how that intangible gift would translate to the elite level was unclear. It's still not obvious what his future role will be.

But on a day when several of Australia's top six were defeated by a perky Pakistan bowling group, Smith's confident counter-attack was especially notable. There was a particularly stark contrast with the No. 6 Marcus North, who has batted poorly in this series and appears less secure - and unlike Smith, less special - with every innings.

It is unreasonable to suggest after one flashy half-century that Smith should take North's spot up the order, for the younger man could frustrate as much as fascinate. But when Smith launched two consecutive sixes over long-off and onto the Football Stand roof off Danish Kaneria, the eyes of the Australian selectors must have lit up as much as those of the batsman.

Australia's next Test is in Mohali in October, by which time Nathan Hauritz will have recovered from his foot injury. There are only two Tests before the Ashes, so Andrew Hilditch and his panel have some important decisions to make. Hauritz, who was at the top of Australia's wicket tally over their home summer, has done enough to remain the leading spinner.

Two slow men could be employed on the Indian pitches but it's equally possible that Smith will be dropped, despite singlehandedly keeping the match alive with his batting. As a legspinner he has been no more than tidy on his first Test tour, but his strokeplay confirmed that he is not the type to shrink under pressure.

Smith, 21, is a youthful man who has thrived in the youngest format, and there was more than a hint of Twenty20 in some of his swats through midwicket and lofted drives through the off side. With every strong slap or cleverly nudged single at the end of an over to keep the strike from the tailenders, Smith sent Salman Butt to scratch his head for answers.

In terms of technique, parts of Smith's innings were questionable, but at least it was effective. The same cannot be said of North's efforts over the past two Tests. This time, he came to the crease with four wickets down, a deficit of 12 and the team's vice-captain Michael Clarke well set on 41. North was the last of the specialist batsmen and the situation called for vigilance.

Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were finding late swing, and the momentum was with Pakistan. It was the perfect stage for North, whose ability to fight and score runs in difficult conditions was singled out by the selectors as a key reason for his promotion when he was first chosen in the Test squad early last year.

He could easily have left alone a delivery from Aamer that was wide of off and did little in the air or off the pitch. Instead, North pushed for an ill-judged drive and inside-edged back onto his stumps. Aamer had bowled far more threatening balls, and it was the sort of dismissal in which poor technique plays a part.

North's high back-lift away from his body creates a worrying gap between bat and pad, and it can leave him off balance. In the first innings he wafted at a ball outside off stump from Umar Amin, a modest part-time medium pacer, and edged behind. At Lord's, North took six wickets but scored 0 and 20.

Since the start of the Australian summer, he has averaged 30.26 and his only century came in New Zealand against an attack so pedestrian that the debutant Brent Arnel was its most threatening member. North's New Zealand tour saved his career, and he will need a similar last-minute rescue in India - if he's given the opportunity.

Failures in Mohali and Bangalore would leave the selectors little choice but to drop North for the first Ashes Test, and that is not the time to restructure. Perhaps they will trial Usman Khawaja in India, or shift Shane Watson down to No. 6 and reinstall Phillip Hughes at the top, or gamble on Brad Haddin at six and Smith at seven.

Whatever they choose, Smith's Headingley highlights package has made him hard to drop. The decision on North becomes easier with every failure.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rezkp007 on July 24, 2010, 21:42 GMT

    they should play with 2 spinner in india.

  • Gopes_On_Dopes on July 24, 2010, 14:30 GMT

    Its a little too much to expect a no 6 to have a good technique when the captain and the no. 3 bat is so pathetic against the moving ball.

  • Okakaboka on July 24, 2010, 12:49 GMT

    No, Smith is not ready yet.Tthe simple solution is drop North and bring in Cameron White! (and he is still quite young by test standards) North is not up to international standard. He has had a lucky run until now.....take for example his 6 wickets in the last test. All the batsmen got themselves out! Cameron White is a clever and versitile cricketer and offers genuine leadership potential. He is also the best slips fieldsman in Australia. Unlike butterfingers North; Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhauss and Peter Siddle would bowl much more confidently knowing White was parked in first slip!

  • dummy4fb on July 24, 2010, 11:55 GMT

    i thnk diz is the tme to show north doors and put white in the place of him .

  • Something_Witty on July 24, 2010, 10:39 GMT

    I hate to say this, but North has had more than his share of chances. The time has come for him to be replaced by someone younger and more consistent. The obvious choices are Steve Smith, Cameron White (if he can reign himself in as Andrew Symonds did), and Phil Hughes. Personally I'd rather see Steve Smith in the side, as he can bat in the top 6 and provide a more aggressive second spin option than North.

  • mamboman on July 24, 2010, 10:02 GMT

    North doesn't deserve another chance - if as weak an attack as Pakistan can work him out, he has no future at this level - Australia has plenty of options to fill his spot and they should do it forthwith.

  • popcorn on July 24, 2010, 8:39 GMT

    This is tough on North, but he has been given enough of a long rope.He has to be dropped. He has to do what Ricky Ponting,Michael Clarke and Simon Katich did when they were dropped - perfect his technique, make lots of runs, and give the selectors no choice, but to select him at the no.6 position which is very crucial.Meanwhile, George Bailey should be selected for the no.6 position, and in some matches in India, - Tests or ODIs,Steven Smith should be selected for his bowling primarily, and his batting as a bonus.

  • eyballfallenout on July 24, 2010, 8:11 GMT

    After the bowling efforts of Watson, i would strengthen our batting, Watson to 6 in place of north, a proper opener in hughs ect ( not that watson isnt good enough, but he cant be bowling out sides then rushing in to open as well) leave hauritz in until smith has more experience. Hauritz has done really well since the ashes.

  • dummy4fb on July 24, 2010, 6:48 GMT

    Can't expect good technique from ur no 6 batsmen when the captain and no 3 bat is so pathetic against the moving ball

  • dummy4fb on July 24, 2010, 6:36 GMT

    Kick out Marcus North.Bring in White,Rogers,Hughes or D. Hussey.

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