Steve Smith is arguably the best cricketer since Sir Donald Bradman, but there might not be room for the 33-year-old in Australia’s starting XI for this summer’s T20 World Cup defence campaign on home soil.
The former Australian captain was dropped for Wednesday evening’s first T20 against the West Indies on the Gold Coast, with national selectors favouring the services of big-hitting duo Tim David and Cameron Green.
But a vacancy opened up for Smith when West Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh flew to Perth for workload management ahead of the second T20 in Brisbane.
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It was the ideal opportunity for Smith to push his case for T20 World Cup selection, but the New South Welshmen struggled on the Gabba’s bouncy deck, scratching his way towards 17 off 16 balls.
The talented right-hander mustered four runs from his opening nine deliveries, during which teammate Glenn Maxwell was run out trying to pinch a quick single.
Meanwhile, David smacked 42 runs from 20 balls to all but ensure he’ll feature in Australia’s T20 World Cup opener against New Zealand at the SCG.
“(David’s) an incredible player and he’s got some serious power,” veteran opener David Warner told reporters after the 31-run victory.
“It boosts our middle order … selectors have got a headache now I think.”
When Marsh and Marcus Stoinis return to the squad this week, it seems inevitable that Smith will be squeezed out of the side.
Australia relies heavily on all-rounders for balance in its starting XI, with the team habitually employing four strike bowlers since last year’s T20 World Cup.
Put simply, there isn’t room for five specialist batters in the top six.
“We’ve got a really good depth to our squad,” Smith told reporters in Brisbane this week.
“Tim David’s come in and done really well. Everyone’s in a good place. So we’ll wait and see.
“People talk about match-ups for different oppositions and conditions – we’ve got a really good squad, so we can pick it accordingly … we’ve got options whichever way we go about it.”
Maxwell did not travel to Perth with the Australian squad this week, meaning Smith might have one final opportunity to push his case during the first T20 against England.
But another failure could see Smith become a boundary-side spectator for the majority of the T20 World Cup.
“I don’t think that Steve Smith fits into that team, only because it’s the first time in a long time that Australia has been jammed-packed with serious hitters, match-winners,” former Australian batter Brad Hodge told ABC Grandstand.
Smith served as Australia’s middle-order anchor during last year’s T20 World Cup, but he struggled to find any rhythm in the United Arab Emirates, finishing the tournament with 69 runs in four knocks at a strike rate of less than 100.
He has since ditched the “Mr Fix It” moniker, cherishing the opportunity to play with more freedom in the middle — but recent form suggests otherwise.
Smith has made seven single-figure scores in his last 12 T20I innings, averaging 19.14 in the game’s shortest format this year.
His T20I strike rate of 112.77 is the lowest among Australian top-order batters over the past 12 months.
“Just having that more attacking mindset rather than, when I was playing that kind of (Mr Fix It) role, I was probably in a more defensive frame of mind and almost trying to bat through without taking the game on as much,” Smith said.
“But just having the license to go out and just play the way I want to play, and the situation that’s in front of me, I think that’s the way I play best.”
T20I batting strike rate for Australians over the last 12 months
177.63 — Cameron Green
170.58 — Tim David
156.93 — Matthew Wade
153.47 — David Warner
153.24 — Marcus Stoinis
146.32 — Mitchell Marsh
141.02 — Josh Inglis
121.17 — Aaron Finch
112.90 — Glenn Maxwell
112.77 — Steve Smith
* Minimum five innings at 1-7 in batting order
Smith has statistically found the most success when batting at No. 3 in the 20-over format, but that spot is occupied by Marsh, who has named Men’s T20I Player of the Year at the 2022 Australian Cricket Awards.
The lower down the order Smith bats, the less effective he’s been in T20 cricket.
Steve Smith’s T20I batting average in different positions
No. 3 — 34.93
No. 4 — 26.12
No. 5 — 18.66
No. 6 — 16.00
No. 7 and lower — 13.62
During this year’s Indian Premier League Auction, David was picked up by the Mumbai Indians for a whopping AU$1.53 million sum, while Smith went unsold after none of the franchises bothered placing a bid.
But while David boasts raw power and long levers, Smith is adamant his precision and skill remains a valuable asset in the Australian side.
The right-hander may not be as powerful as David and Green, but he’s fast between the wickets and picks gaps in the field better than anyone.
“For me, I’m not as strong and powerful as some of the other guys,” Smith confessed.
“But some wickets entail just good smarts and punching the ball and timing the ball really well, particularly in Australia with big grounds, running hard between the wickets, that kind of thing.”
The first T20 between Australia and England gets underway at Perth Stadium on Sunday evening, with the first ball scheduled for 7.10pm AEDT.
It marks the first international cricket match in Perth since 2019.