Australia in Sri Lanka 2011

Selectors make 'harsh' call on Steven Smith

Daniel Brettig

July 26, 2011

Comments: 75 | Text size: A | A

Steven Smith pulls on his way to a half-century, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 5th day, January 7, 2011
Steven Smith's last Test innings was an unbeaten half century in the fifth Ashes Test © Getty Images
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Australia's selectors have jettisoned the young allrounder Steven Smith for next month's Test series in Sri Lanka, after previously giving every indication they were intent on persevering with him.

Having played five Test matches with varying degrees of success since his debut against Pakistan at Lord's in 2010, Smith is now the latest victim of a cycle that has churned through 12 spin bowlers since Shane Warne retired in 2007.

Smith's place has been effectively taken by two players. One is Nathan Lyon, the gifted South Australian slow bowler who has played only four Sheffield Shield matches and is currently in the midst of his first ever pre-season with the Redbacks after being the break-out success of Australia A's tour of Zimbabwe.

The other is Shaun Marsh, the talented but not yet prolific West Australian who will compete with another left-hander, Usman Khawaja, for the spot in the Australian top seven that has been vacated by Smith.

Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors who is widely expected to be removed from his post after the Argus Review tables its findings about the performance of the national team, argued that Smith had not made a spot his own.

"It's a very harsh call on Steven. He was very disappointed when I spoke to him, which I would expect," Hilditch said. "We really made an assessment, and as I spoke to Steve about, that we didn't think he'd cemented a spot in the top six batters and we didn't think he'd cemented a spot as a spinner.

"We really think the best thing for him, and Australian cricket, is that he [first] cements his position in the short forms of the game and plays some more Shield cricket, and gets better at both those skills. I think it's important that people realise that we're hardly moving away from him."

Hilditch went on to say the selection was specific to Sri Lankan conditions, which seemed highly odd given that Smith's skills and SCG upbringing seem to make him better suited to the subcontinent than anywhere else.

A batting technique best described as homespun is more likely to confound slow bowlers than fast ones, while Smith's bowling would have offered the squad greater flexibility. Now the vice-captain Shane Watson can expect to bowl long spells as the third seamer or the captain Michael Clarke to deliver more overs than he would like as the second spinner.

Lyon's selection is rightly touted as a happy tale, and one that harks back to less regimented times. But his preparation for the rigours of Test match bowling have been rudimentary, and he struggled with the physical demands of consecutive Shield matches late last summer.

"In an ideal world it would be nice if he'd played more Shield cricket, there's no doubt about that," said Hilditch. "But from our perspective we're very confident that he's ready. He's a very talented spin-bowler, he's had a meteoric rise. It was one of the great parts of my job to call him this morning and tell him he's got the opportunity to play for Australia.

"We've followed him closely coming through from limited-overs cricket. He then played very well in the Shield games but it was of course a very big learning curve for him as well. We took him to Zimbabwe and he was player of the series, albeit in the one-day series there. Really, the feedback we got from everyone there -- the selector on that tour and the coaching staff -- was that he really impressed as being ready to play international cricket."

"The reason he wasn't in the longer form of the game in Zimbabwe was simply that we thought Jason [Krejza] and Michael Beer deserved the first opportunity to impress ahead of Sri Lanka."

Krejza's omission maintains his topsy turvy run at the fringes of the national team. An apparent inability to drop into a consistent rhythm over long spells has counted significantly against him, but it remained surprising to hear that Krejza had managed to bowl himself from the top of Australia's Test slow bowling ranks to the bottom in the space of one brief tour to Zimbabwe.

Beer was victor in that duel, but Hilditch now painted a demanding picture of what would be required of him in Sri Lanka. Having never taken more than three wickets in a first-class innings, Beer will fly to the island nation as Australia's lead Test spin bowler, and if he does not thrive against skilful Sri Lankan batsmen on pitches of their choosing he will likely be thrown aside just as Smith and plenty of others have been.

"It'll be a very important tour for Michael Beer in particular," said Hilditch. "We thought he bowled well [in the fifth Ashes Test] without much luck, so you'd expect him to play in Sri Lanka in fairly good conditions but against high quality batters, so it'll be a big test for him but we think he's up to it.

"In the end all players are assessed on performance, everybody has to perform to play cricket for Australia. Obviously the hope is that they play really well and move on from there."

Among the batsmen, Marsh and Khawaja will now be counting down to Australia's lone warm-up match before the first Test, for it will be their one chance to dictate which of the two will seal a spot in Australia's batting order, most probably at No. 6. Marsh has the job ahead of him to prove that his talent can be allied to Test match concentration, so attractive starts become substantial innings. It is a quality Khawaja possesses, but in Zimbabwe his form deserted him and he is not known as a particularly adept player of spin.

"Shaun Marsh is someone we've identified for several years as someone we think can have an impact in international cricket," Hilditch said. "I think if you look carefully last year, he really did turn the corner as far as consistency of performance at Shield level. He got some really big scores and was really hampered by injuries at the most critical times, just before Ashes selection and just before World Cup selection.

"So we think he was ready last year and playing very well and scoring big runs for WA. I agree that's a stage that a lot of young batters need to make, where they go from being talented to actually nailing Shield cricket, and we thought Shaun had made real progress last year. If not for injury I think it would've been very different. He's worked very hard on those issues, you won't find anybody assessing him say anything other than he's a very talented player."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by markc_7 on (July 29, 2011, 12:43 GMT)

Now Australian cricket has come down to this. A below average player like Steven Smith getting this much attention! If Aussies are now relying on bowlers like Michael Beer and Steven Smith to do it for them in the subcontinent, time has come for me to find a new passion other than cricket. Not playing Usman Khawaja in Srilanka, or for that matter any upcoming series, will be a massive mistake. The guy has talent, more talent and better average then any other young batsmen playing Sheffield Shield. Trust me, this tour looks like a disaster before it even started! G'luck!

Posted by ygkd on (July 29, 2011, 0:43 GMT)

Watching Ferguson bat gives me the impression he can improve his average. Watching Smith bat gives me the impression his average is too high. Smith clearly has achieved more for his ability than the South Australian, but the question remains - can he continue to do it? And more-so, for he seems more often cold than hot with both bat and ball. I think it's a big ask and would back O'Keefe ahead of him as a bowling all-rounder. But only time will tell.

Posted by hyclass on (July 28, 2011, 1:48 GMT)

I think this is a case of everyone being right.He was well chosen on a 1st class average of 56 that dropped to 42.He couldnt continue to be selected and was well dropped.His use at 6 was questionable.His story is very similar to Whites and to some extent,both are eye players without the quality of defensive game required to make ugly runs when out of form.He does have both batting and bowling chops,but not enough yet.Id like to see him make it.I think he has real talent.Id also prefer to see a batsman rather than an all rounder at 6.Sometimes,by splitting the difference,you get neither a batsman nor a bowler.Id like to David Hussey at 6.He has a peerless record and can shred an attack and has the intelligence and stamina to do it regularly.Khawaja has dropped his average from 53 to 45 since first being selected.He clearly has a problem outside off that needs to be worked on and isnt a recognised player of spin.Marsh had 2 good and 2 ordinary games last season and lacks mental stamina.

Posted by   on (July 28, 2011, 0:31 GMT)

My team for the first test would be...

Marsh Watson Kwarja Ponting Hussey Clarke(c) Haddin(wkt) Johnson Harris Siddle Lyons

I wouldn't play beer if Clarke is bowling some overs as they both bowl slow left arm. Lyons offers variety by bowling it the other way to Clarke. I would choose marsh ahead of Hughes as I find Hughes very inconsistent and against good bowling attacks he yew our looks circumspect. I find marsh's technique more compact and solid than Hughes.

Posted by one_of_the_elite_few on (July 28, 2011, 0:23 GMT)

Smith is the right call and should have been done earlier, he is only 22 years old, has had some good exposure to international cricket and knows the level one must be at to perform at that level. There is no doubt that he will go back and do everything in his power to get back in the side, and i believe he is far better off concentrating on his leg spin bowling, there are very few of them compared to the 100's of middle order batsmen that can play the role better than Smith. I hope he is back in side in a couple of years taking wickets because he is talented.

Posted by Meety on (July 27, 2011, 23:57 GMT)

@AJDoogs - re Smiths batting, he has 4 FC 100's & an ave of 42, that places him above Marsh & Ferguson! -- -- -- Smith is a long term investment, he's doing better than a lot of people give him credit for in the Short Formats, & I think all he needs is a bit more variety in his leggies, & a bit more appreciation of where his off stump is - & he WILL be a force in Test cricket. He should be on tour in SL - (not playing), but racking up the hours in the nets, batting & bowling.

Posted by AJDoogs on (July 27, 2011, 19:51 GMT)

I think Smith has the potentential to be a bloody good leg spinner, he has the fundamentals he just needs the consistency and the guile. As for a batsman he should bat at 11 - he is bloody hopeless. The selectors should tell him to go back to shield cricket and become a specialist leg spinner.

Posted by stormy16 on (July 27, 2011, 19:20 GMT)

I totally agree with Smiths call, he is not a specialist batsman or bowler. Sure he can do a bit of both but its never going to win you games unless your highly skilled in one as a minimum, and he is far from it. With Aus showing some big holes in the batting they cannot afford to carry Smith in the top 7 as he simply doesnt have the skills. I think Marsh and Kawaja are a fair bet and deserve the opportunity. One thing I will stay away from is using Watson as a bowler. Aus cannot afford to loose him and his injury history is not good and I would use him very sparingly as a bowler. You dont want Watson breaking down bowling in probably the toughest bowling conditions for a seamer.

Posted by popcorn on (July 27, 2011, 18:33 GMT)

Discarding Steve Smith was the RIGHT Decision. He has been given sufficient opportunities - but he can't bat, nor can he bowl! Mark Waugh has watched Shaun Marsh play, and says he has good Test Cricket technique. So has Usman Khawaja.The latter is better suited at No.3 or 4. I think Australia should play to its strengths - which is fast bowling.Michell Johnson,Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris.Sane Watson is the fourth seamer.In the spin department, ONLY ONE out of Nathan Lyon or Michel Beer should be selected. My Test Team 11 selection - in batting order would be: Shane Watson, Philip Hughes, Ricky Ponting, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke (back to the Number 5 slot where he scored the most runs),Mike Hussey, Brad Haddin,Mitchell Johnson,Ryan Harris,Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon or Michael Beer.

Posted by OzWally on (July 27, 2011, 17:47 GMT)

Give joneys2 a break. I believe the 36 batting ave. was a bonus. Compare O'Keefe's FC bowling stats to Beer and Lyon's. O'Keefe 14 games 52 wickets @ 24. Beer - 13 games 31 @ 46 and Lyon 4 games 12 @ 43. Can we all just agree Hilditch is an idiot?

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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