Upon witnessing Steve Smith’s tendency to struggle against a very new ball that is swinging in conditions favouring the bowlers, it made me think he must be shifted from the number three position very quickly.
There’s been plenty of discussion around this in the past week or so, and I don’t think the solution could be clearer – the newly appointed captain must bump down one place.
I will also say his innings at Lord’s showed he is capable assuming this position, his knock of 215 striking at 62 was simply superb and highlighted the class batsman Australia have on their hands.
I feel I should point out, though, after David Warner and Chris Rogers compiled a healthy opening stand, the score was 1-78 in the 16th over when Smith came to the crease. A solid platform had been set.
It is when Australia loses a wicket very early in proceedings and Smith is forced to play a role essentially as an opener that I feel he struggles.
This problem is exposed by Smith’s slight weakness of off-stump awareness, especially when the ball is swinging at the start of the innings. This may have something to do with the shuffle act across the off stump that has become a habit with Smith.
Traditionally a number three batsman must have the qualities of an opener, as it is often likely they are out in the middle within the first half hour, and I’m not sure Smith is suited to this.
Ideally the number three should be a batsman that could just as easily open the batting, and hence since Ricky Ponting’s retirement in 2012 we have seen Rob Quiney, the late Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson used in this position – all recognised opening batsmen.
Five years ago when Smith was first handed a place in the Test side he was batting at number six. His resurgence in the long format began in 2013 where he batted at number five and he has never looked back. However, Smith has notched 560 Test runs batting at four in just seven knocks at an average of, you guessed it, 80. Higher than his average in any other position.
So what’s the alternative? I think a top-order batsman can slot into the number three place, and from there the selectors must pick and stick, and put some time into their new number three. Some frontrunners I could throw around might be the aforementioned Khawaja, fellow Queenslander Joe Burns, or even (ducks for cover) a promotion of Shaun Marsh.
Long-term I think four is the ideal spot for Smith as it suits his style and technique much more. I know there has been some commentary about him considering a move in the order, and for mine, it must be at number four.