Steven Smith's search for rhythm one of Australia's good problems

He said conditions in the series meant a batter has "never really felt in" although Australia have still scored more than enough runs

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
On a scale of problems, it's pretty low down the list - and one that England would love to have. A Test batting average last year of 53.75 and three innings ago a score of 93, but Steven Smith admitted he is still searching for his best rhythm in a series where he feels conditions have favoured the bowlers, adding he had never seen the ball move as much as it did in Melbourne.
England have managed to keep Smith under a reasonably tight leash in this series, certainly compared to the 2019 edition in which he made a chart-topping 774 runs, with scores of 12, 6 and 16 aside from his major contribution in the first innings in Adelaide when he had been rushed into the captaincy.
After a brief slump against India in the 2020-21 series, where he was dismissed for three single-figure scores in a row, Smith rebounded with 131 and 81 at the SCG. That century remains his only Test hundred on home soil since returning from his ban.
"It's been a little while since I've scored a hundred; [I] got close in Adelaide," Smith said. "Think we've played on some pretty bowler-friendly wickets in the first three Tests. You've never really felt in. Anyone can bowl a good ball at a certain time.
"It's about hanging in there as along as possible, defending well and leaving well and pouncing on anything loose. Think that's what the guys who have scored runs in this series have done well. It's been tough to get rhythm and to get into a groove but hopefully this week [I] can score a big one."
In Melbourne, Smith fell to James Anderson during an excellent spell on the second day before being able to watch the excellence of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins during the final hour stood in the slips.
"I've probably never seen seam movement like that in my life," he said. "One of those balls that [Haseeb] Hameed left that evening when it hit him, that came back like an offspinner. The ball was seaming as far as I've seen on any wicket in my career. It was never going to be easy. Our bowlers were relentless with their line and length."
Despite being what Smith termed a "bowler-friendly" series, Australia twice passed 400, in their first innings in Brisbane and Adelaide, to set up their victories. Of the top order, only Cameron Green has not contributed at least a half-century but they will be without Travis Head in Sydney after his positive Covid-19 result.
Two days out, the SCG pitch was proving a tricky one to read with a significant covering of grass which is likely to be trimmed before the game. However, with that and the dodgy forecast, any chance of a debut for legspinner Mitchell Swepson appears to have receded.
"It's pretty green at the moment, so what it'll do I'm not sure, but [will] sum it up when we are out and there and play accordingly," Smith said. "If it starts with a lot of grass it doesn't seem to break up that much whereas if they take it off it has the ability to break up a bit more and the footmarks come into play a lot more. I dare say it may not take too much spin late in the game which was the traditional SCG…which I would like to see personally."
Josh Hazlewood is continuing his recovery from a side strain that has kept him out of action since the Gabba Test and had a lengthy run out on Monday. "The ball seemed to be coming through quite nicely," Smith said. "Not sure how he's pulled up. I know that the guys have a lot of trust in him to make the right decision."
There are fast-bowling riches for Australia to pick from, with Jhye Richardson having taken a five-wicket haul in Adelaide before being left out as a precaution in Melbourne where Scott Boland grabbed a stunning 6 for 7 which may yet not be enough for him to retain his place. Another of the good problems to have that England would dearly like.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo