Deploying Steven Smith as an opener in T20Is is a judicious move for three compelling reasons

Steven Smith

Steven Smith, one of the few consistent ODI players, is featured in Australia’s T20I lineup, preparing for a three-game series against South Africa starting from August 30th.

Also Read: Steven Smith Aims for Major League Cricket, Joins Washington Freedom

A majority of other players have been granted rest, a strategic decision aiming towards forthcoming ODIs in South Africa and India before the Cricket World Cup 2023. The T20 squad introduces fresh faces, notably with Mitchell Marsh appointed as captain for the series.

Chief selector, George Bailey, accentuated Smith’s successful stint as an opener with the Sydney Sixers earlier this year. Bailey aspires for Steven Smith to replicate his prowess on the international stage. Smith’s previous engagement in the T20 World Cup, hosted domestically, saw him partake in a lone match as the defending champions exited during the Super 12 stage.

Former captain Michael Clarke recently criticized Australia’s selection inconsistency spanning 15 months. Speaking on the Sky Sports Radio Big Sports Breakfast, Clarke expressed his discomfort with Smith’s current selection, considering it embarrassing for the selectors.

 

He also voiced astonishment at the renowned batter warming the bench during the T20 World Cup. Additionally, Clarke noted Smith’s absence from IPL participation for a considerable duration.

While time will ultimately unveil the wisdom of the selectors’ choices, it’s worthwhile to examine three reasons supporting the notion that Smith, as an opener in T20Is, is a judicious progression. Smith’s performance in the middle order of T20Is hasn’t yielded success.

While his versatility spans cricket formats, it’s evident that he hasn’t fully harnessed his potential in T20Is. A modest average of 25.2, coupled with a strike rate of 125.22 over 51 innings, falls short of justifying his caliber and batting prowess.

Steven Smith, however, showcases an impressive track record at the No. 3 position in T20Is. His record boasts three half-centuries in 18 innings, boasting an average of 34.94 and a strike rate of 139.05. With Mitchell Marsh firmly established at this slot and Smith’s performance dipping when batting lower down the order, accommodating him there presents challenges.

Hence, positioning Smith as an opener emerges as a pragmatic choice to invigorate his T20I career. His accomplishments at No. 3 underscore the benefits of providing him more time at the crease and exploiting field restrictions. This strategic move aims to unleash the utmost potential from his batting prowess.
This could be the opportune moment to capitalize on his Big Bash League form.

Completing Australia’s international home summer in January this year, Smith participated in five BBL matches for the Sydney Sixers. His performance was nothing short of impressive as he amassed a total of 346 runs with a remarkable average of 86.50 and an outstanding strike rate of 174.74. This extraordinary run included consecutive centuries along with a half-century, showcasing his exceptional batting prowess.

Beyond the statistical achievements, Smith’s brilliant streak of form highlighted three distinct factors: versatility, strategic field manipulation, and unbridled aggression. Smith’s proficiency on the leg-side is widely acknowledged, but during these five games, he elevated his performance by several notches, executing remarkable shots behind square with apparent ease. He also adeptly employed crease positioning to tactically control the field.

However, the most conspicuous aspect was Smith’s unwavering intent. There was no room for tentative beginnings; he was determined to demonstrate his substantial contributions in this format without compromise. This absolute focus on performance underscored his resurgence.

Australia’s recognition of these factors is evident, as they now provide him with the opportunity to translate this success onto the international stage, a decision that couldn’t be more timely.

Smith’s addition will provide coverage for both spin and pace aspects.

Marsh is expected to secure the No. 3 position, followed by a formidable middle order in South Africa featuring Glenn Maxwell, Josh Inglis, and Tim David in prominent roles. Considering Marcus Stoinis’ remarkable performance in the preceding T20 World Cup, his reentry into the mix seems natural, even after resting during the T20I leg of the tour.

Anticipating the potentially sluggish conditions at the 2024 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean, this robust middle order aligns well with Australia’s aspirations. The well-established prowess of Maxwell and David as potent match-winners, particularly against spin, is recognized. Likewise, Inglis boasts his own mastery against spin bowling.

The uncertainties that once surrounded Smith’s batting position are now resolved with the presence of this strengthened middle order. Indeed, Smith’s placement at the top bolsters the team’s batting line-up, ensuring readiness for any demand for a steady anchor.

This configuration optimizes each player’s strengths, and with Smith at the helm, the chances of misplacement or late appearances are effectively minimized.