Attacking Smith spins towards success
Watch out, Australia have another blond legspinner. While the quick bowlers have been wreaking havoc and creating headlines, Steven Smith has quietly been going about his work. He hasn't generated as much conversation as the pacemen, but that's often because the opposition have been staring at defeat by the time Smith gets the ball.
However, he has been incredibly impressive and figures of 3 for 20 against West Indies were due reward for a player who has made rapid strides over the past few months. He has leapfrogged Nathan Hauritz in the Twenty20 team, which is a notable achievement because Hauritz enjoyed a profitable home season.
The highlight of Smith's performance against West Indies was a ripping leg break that drew Kieron Pollard out of his crease and then he silenced the St Lucia crowd when he removed local hero Darren Sammy with a caught and bowled. Again it was a ball with flight and dip that played a key part in the batsman's error.
It reinforces the attacking mindset Australia have brought to this tournament - the legspinner instead of the offspinner. Smith, though, also brings his batting into the equation and has already played a crucial innings in the World Twenty20 with 27 off 18 balls against Bangladesh after Australia had been 65 for 6.
In first-class cricket, run-scoring in his stronger suit, with an average of 56.22 from 13 matches coupled with four hundreds and he could well earn a Test place in the top six. Twenty20 is the one format where his bowling has excelled, with 29 wickets at 16.27. He provides further evidence of the success that is on offer for a brave spinner; some days he'll get neck ache watching the ball disappear into the stands, but rewards can be plentiful.
"It's been pretty exciting coming over here and playing in my first World Cup," he said. "The wickets here are quite slow and I think my pace of bowling is well suited. It was good to contribute today and take a few wickets to help us to victory. The team has moulded together beautifully but we haven't come here just to make the semi-finals."
One significant advantage for Smith has been the top-order destruction dished out by the fast men, which has meant teams have been well behind the rate when Smith has come on to bowl. His challenge will be greater should a team be 60 for 1 after the Powerplays. However, there hasn't been any element of Michael Clarke hiding his young spinner, who has often bowled his four overs straight through.
"Smithy, like a lot of guys in their first World Cup, have been outstanding with their attitude," Clarke said. "They have taken it upon themselves to be the one to win us the game. Smithy has bowled well throughout the whole tournament and although he got his rewards today his performances have been fantastic all the way. He wants to bowl, it doesn't matter who's batting and that's important at the highest level."
Throughout the tournament, Smith has held his own against teams with impressive records against spin and he will come up against Pakistan for the second time in two weeks in the semi-final on Friday. Rather than being daunted by the prospect, he is relishing another contest.
"They'll be coming pretty hard at me I'd imagine with our three quicks bowling over 150kph - when a spinner comes they'll attack me as they did in the last game," he said. "It's just about me changing my pace and missing the middle of the bat. If I do that I'll be in with a chance."
And then, of course, there is one enticing prospect looming. If Australia overcome Pakistan and England overcome Sri Lanka there will be an Ashes final. There's a certain blond legspinner who dominated that rivalry for more than a decade. Are any England batsmen getting twitchy?
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo