Smith backs his problem-solving skills if England go funky


Steven Smith is expecting England to try some “different stuff” against him during the Ashes but is confident his problem-solving skills will stand him in good stead.

Smith comes into the series on the back of the 121 he made against India in the World Test Championship final, where he looked in excellent touch, although he did fall to a hack against Ravindra Jadeja in the second innings.

“Not my best shot,” he admitted, when asked if it was a sign he may be drawn into the wild strokes Stuart Broad had hoped to see. “Thought I’d cashed in a few tickets in the first innings.”

Four years ago Smith racked up 774 runs at an average of 110.57 in a triumphant return to Test cricket, following his one-year ball-tampering ban, which began with twin hundreds at Edgbaston he what he termed the favourite match of his career.

That series saw England go through a variety of plans to try and dislodge him, but the only occasion he did not reach at least 80 was when he wearily flicked to leg slip in the last innings of the series at The Oval.

England’s pre-match talk has ranged from a suggestion by James Anderson that they won’t over-plan for Smith this time, having previously fallen into that trap, to expectations that Ben Stokes will go through his full range of tricks against him.

“Think we’ve seen the last few months that they do some funky things and they are going to have to try some different things at certain times,” Smith said. “For me, [I] think one of my big strengths is being able to adapt on the go and understand what they are trying to do and sort of solve the problem out in the middle. I’ll just focus on my game and try and counter each thing they come at me with. But we are expecting some different stuff, that’s for sure.”

Moeen Ali would appear a clear target for the Australians – something Moeen has already spoken about expecting – although Smith suggested a more measured approach than will likely be seen from England’s batters.

“Leachy’s [Jack Leach] not here so they don’t have a left-arm spinner, bit different the ball spinning in,” he said. “I’m sure facing Mo there’ll be times where we are a bit more aggressive and times where we bring it back.

“I won’t really change too much, it’s about understanding situations, knowing when I can press a bit more and put a bit more pressure on and knowing when I need to absorb pressure and rein it back in a bit. It’s something I’ve done for 10 years and I don’t see any need to change it.”

Following Smith’s 2019 epic he went through, by his very high standards, a couple of learner years as his movements at the crease became exaggerated, especially against the short ball, but since mid-2022 he has returned to scaling impressive heights, averaging 62.46 since the tour of Sri Lanka.

That successful period coincided with a change in technique where he was standing more side-on and much stiller at the crease, but early in this tour he has reverted to the back-and-across movement that was a feature of the 2019 campaign – the latest example of the skill and adaptability that makes him a great. But was that tour four years ago his pinnacle?

“Hope I’m better, I strive every day to be better,” he said. “But not sure. Was obviously a good series for me last time here and I’d love to replicate something similar and help us lift the urn at the end. But we’ll wait and see.”

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