Steve Smith’s form is growing ever more ominous just days out from the 2019 World Cup with the Australian superstar last night making a wonderful ton against England.
Smith constructed a commanding knock of 116 from 102 balls on a two-paced pitch against some disciplined bowling from England as Australia made 9-297 batting first in this practice match.
It was a perfectly-paced knock from the former skipper. When Shaun Marsh departed for 30, leaving the score at 3-108, Australia needed someone to anchor their innings. Smith batted within himself until the final ten overs, piercing the gaps and running well.
Then in that last stanza he crunched 51 from 33 balls, unfurling a wide array of strokes, including one six scooped over the wicketkeeper’s head and another sliced over deep backward point. It was comfortably Smith’s most fluent and complete knock in one day cricket since he crunched 108* against Pakistan more than two years ago.
He was compact in defence, scored all around the ground and appeared unfazed by incessant booing from the English crowd, which continued even while he celebrated his century.
Meanwhile, wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey showed further signs he is growing into his unfamiliar role down the order with a valuable knock of 30 from 15 balls. Having played most of his one day cricket as an accumulator-style opener for South Australia, Carey has been asked to take on a vastly different batting role as an aggressive finisher for Australia.
In his 11 ODIs batting down the order at six, seven or eight Carey has made 258 runs at 32, with a presentable strike rate of 99. Carey looks increasingly comfortable taking on the bowlers from ball one with the field set back.
Yesterday he arrived at the crease with Australia badly in need of some impetus after a dawdling innings of 13 from 22 balls by out-of-form all-rounder Marcus Stoinis. The Aussies were 5-224 with just 7.1 overs remaining and looked as though they may struggle to exceed 280.
Targeting the offside Carey opened up his front leg and used timing rather than brute force to lace a succession of boundaries from England’s quicks. Given the lack of explosiveness in their top five, Australia will need consistently swift runs from Carey at seven and Glenn Maxwell at six. Carey is beginning to look well capable of delivering on that.
Stoinis, meanwhile, continues to make unacceptably slow starts to his innings for a batsman who is meant to be a middle order dasher. The West Australian took eight balls to score his first run, despite Australia having just 13 overs left and needing to accelerate against the high-scoring England team.
Australia’s total was competitive considering the conditions, although there was always a sense that they had left 20-30 runs in the change rooms.
But the visitors bowled well early during England’s chase to apply generous pressure. Jason Behrendorff and Kane Richardson were very economical in the opening 20 overs to deny England their customary blazing start, while off-spinner Nathan Lyon then carried on their good work.
At 3-100 after 21.1 overs England were stuck in the mud. Then along came Jos Buttler with a scorching knock of 52 from 31 balls.
It was a brutal day for Nathan Coulter-Nile, who until yesterday had seemed the frontrunner to be Australia’s third quick in the World Cup alongside automatic picks Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. The West Australian was wayward from his first over.
His opening, three-over spell cost 23 runs and when he returned later Coulter-Nile was obliterated by Jos Buttler, who thrashed the seamer for 24 runs in one over. After six overs, Coulter-Nile had the shocking figures of 1-61.
The battle between Coulter-Nile and Behrendorff for the third seamer spot may now come down to Australia’s final warm-up match against Sri Lanka tomorrow.