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Is the Australian cricket captain switched on and, more importantly, what is his message?
At five for eight on Australia Day Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood’s sizzle and jag had the Poms in more trouble than the earlier settlers, but if the moist Adelaide deck came as a surprise, sadly Steve Smith’s next move didn’t.
As Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali found comfort in the first-change bowlers the score slowly recovered to 38 after 16 overs. If your first vision of the game was the part-time Travis Head bowling the 17th over, you would have been excused for thinking England was already another step closer to a series whitewash.
And what about the four men on the fence? C’mon, the only team fazed by these tactics would have been the Anti-Corruption Unit!
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Not even a weakened park outfit would release the pressure with such ease, but for Smith it was the second time he has undermined his bowlers this series.
Back in Game 2 at the Gabba Smith opted for Head in the seventh over only for the mediocrity to slump even further with Aaron Finch’s nondescripts in the 13th.
Riding high with more than 600 Ashes runs, the current one-day series is a blip on the skipper’s memorable summer. Everything from his 90 runs off the bat has trended south and he’s not the only one – David Warner has scored 32 fewer and overall the team has struggled to reach third gear.
Smith’s drop in form barely scratches the surface of Australia’s 50-over shambles. From team selection and match strategy through to scheduling, most agree an English-style overhaul is needed. And while Smith should lead the 2019 World Cup campaign, his perplexing decisions sound more like a cry for help than an intended solution.
There’s no doubting a home Ashes series is a mental challenge even for the hardiest of past captains, let alone one that follows a prolonged public pay dispute. Top that with a drawn-out ODI series that now plays second fiddle to a domestic T20 competition and it’s easy to understand why Smith’s mind is a tad scrambled.
But a captain’s legacy is often defined by his coping mechanism. On the one hand there’s the stress-free Mark Taylor type while on the other hand there’s the stern and galvanising Alan Border type. Somewhere in between is the Greg Chappell type, infamous for funnelling his demons into a political underarm play aimed at alleviating player burnout.
Already we’ve seen Smith blunt stress with a flat bat. His public support of Glenn Maxwell’s omission from the ODI squad was unusual. Just as deafening, though, is his silence on Nathan Lyon’s prolonged absence.
If I was a betting man, I’d tip that Head and Finch have been used in protest against those ignorant of the offie’s short-form strike power.