Steve Smith has ruled out participating in the Twenty20 Big Bash League this season, saying that continuing to play in bio-secure bubbles amid the COVID-19 pandemic will take a toll on his mental health.
With the second match of the Ashes series less than a week away, the jostle for selection in the English side is well underway.
After being humbled at the ‘fortress’ that was Edgbaston, England are looking to pick themselves up and thrust themselves back into series contention.
After the 149-test stalwart, James Anderson, fell foul to injury in the opening days of the first Test and has since been ruled out of the second Test, there is a spot vacant for an aspiring quick.
The apparent and most obvious choice at this stage seems to be Jofra Archer. After a solid World Cup, his somewhat controversial, yet incredibly impressive appearance in a second XI match for Sussex against Gloucestershire has almost certainly secured himself that available slot in the England bowling line-up in the eyes of most observers.
But would England be missing a trick in selecting the exciting 24-year-old?
There is no question that many believe Archer has done enough and is deserving of a place in the national side, but is there another way of looking at this situation?
Along with Archer and other potential candidate, Olly Stone, Sam Curran is also part of the English squad and was released to go and play in the Vitality T20 Blast.
Could this 1.75m tall left-arm swing bowler hold the key to England’s woes? I’ll come back to him later on.
In terms of the Australians, there is no doubt that Steve Smith is the greatest batsman in the world at the moment and will almost certainly continue to torment England throughout this series.
Statistics certainly do not tell the whole story, they can in fact misrepresent something completely. But they do present an interesting picture all the same.
It seems that no-one has a clue as to how to dismiss Smith at the moment, a puzzling proposition when you can consider this for most other batsman.
Even batsman of the calibre of Virat Kohli, for example, are known to have a potential weakness. When fishing outside off where Kohli can tend to push with his hands while his feet do not follow.
Smith, on the other hand, seems to have absolutely no obvious flaws whatsoever.
As I was looking through the English squad for possible replacements for Anderson, Curran’s name caught my eye.
He is the only left-armer in the 14-strong squad. This is not necessarily an anomaly with the number of right-arm bowlers well outweighing those that use their left. But it did present an interesting case.
Looking at Smith’s career, he has been dismissed by left-arm pace bowlers just seven times with an average of 68.42. These are quite incredible stats which do not necessarily back up the theory of playing a left-arm quick.
One left arm pace bowler who has dismissed Smith a few times is Trent Boult.
Boult has managed to dismiss Smith four times in five matches with a match/dismissal record of 1.25 matches per wicket.
These may seem only OK until you cast your gaze upon the bowlers who have dismissed Smith the most, Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
They have only managed to prise the wicket of Smith on three and two occasions respectively more than Boult, despite having bowled to Smith in four times the amount of matches than Boult has.
Boult is a well-known swinger of the ball who also bowls at decent pace. Now, this is where Sam Curran comes into the picture.
The 21-year-old is a prodigious swinger of the red ball and already has eighteen wickets from ten Tests. As the only left-armer in the English squad, is he worth a go ahead of Archer?
Putting the pure statistics away for the moment, the side by side comparison of Archer and Curran is an interesting one.
Archer is certainly much quicker than Curran and will instil more fear into the Australian batsman than Curran will (Alex Carey will testify to this!) But is that something that will worry Smith?
Another right-arm quick who has a decent bouncer and can deck it around. With no disrespect at all to Archer, I’m not sure Smith will feel too troubled by this at all.
At Test cricket level, batsman are used to facing bowlers who bowl 140kph+ and will not be too perturbed by pace. What they may struggle with is genuine swing.
With the left-arm variation of Curran, Smith will face a different challenge than one that has been presented to him so far this series. Curran will be swinging the ball in towards his pads, which can be Smith’s biggest strength and weakness at the same time.
Curran is certainly no slouch with the bat either and has played some innings-saving digs for England when they have been in the depths of a collapse. His 78 versus India at Southampton in 2018 is a perfect example of such an innings.
Curran also impressed when he bagged a six-wicket haul in a practice match at Canterbury against the Australians in the lead up to the series.
Archer may squash my theory and go and knock Smith over in the next Test and throughout the series. But I believe England should look to pick Curran.
It will provide the hosts with some variation to their attack which, for their sake, hopefully nullifies the ever-present threat that is Steve Smith.