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Smith’s Ashes domination to reignite the Bull

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12th August, 2019
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Ignore him at your peril. David Warner is primed to light up the remainder of the Ashes and redeem his sins from nearly 18 months ago this week at Lords.

Steve Smith’s twin tons in the first Test at Edgbaston will be remembered as one of the all-time great Ashes performances, not just for the prolonged display of skilful batting but also for the mental fortitude considering his well-documented struggles over the past year and a half.

What Smith’s performance also achieved in the short term was to partly hide the fragility of Australia’s opening pairing, with Warner and the also returning Cameron Bancroft both finding themselves back in the sheds with the score on 17 and 27 in each innings.

While Bancroft was made to look like a fish out of water, with his trigger movement across his stumps continually leading him to unnecessarily push and prod at balls outside of his off stump, Warner also failed to instil much confidence.

Taking guard well outside his crease and unusually slightly outside off stump on the first morning, Warner found himself pinned LBW by Stuart Broad, the mode of dismissal this tactic was designed to negate.

David Warner

(Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Had the Australian opener reviewed the decision and found Broad’s delivery sliding down the legside, his tactic would have been successful.

Seemingly unconvinced about the success his guard in the first innings, it was surprising to see Warner revert back to batting on middle stump, therefore reducing the risk of having his pads coming too far across the crease as they had in the first innings.

The outcome of this move wasn’t desirable either, as Warner, similar to his opening partner, appeared uncertain around his off stump, leading to a faint edge as he attempted to withdraw from a Broad delivery that angled the ball in before nipping it away towards the four waiting slips.

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One would expect to see Warner return to an off stump guard again at Lords, with Broad and likely debutant Jofra Archer posing the biggest threat using the famous Lords slope to again set up the Aussie left-hander.

What will also help Warner is the diversion of attention towards his former captain.

Smith’s domination of England’s bowling attack has ensured that the narrative of this series will be shaped by the success of his swishing and swashing piece of willow, with all England’s plans going forward geared towards defeating the fidgety, lightsabre wielding New South Welshman.

Steve Smith celebrates a century

(Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Michael Atherton has described the inclusion of Archer as “a nightmare” for Smith and co, with his extra pace and bounce tipped to cause the Australians plenty of headaches. Equally, with the replacement of the struggling Moeen Ali with left-arm tweaker Jack Leach, the English are specifically targeting a perceived weakness in Smith’s game against such bowling.

While it’s true Smith’s average does drop against left-arm finger spinners, this has been primarily against Rangana Herath and Ravindra Jadeja on the Subcontinent, hardly the conditions likely to be seen during the remainder of this series.

While both changes have the potential to temporarily tame Smith, Warner can look to profit.

Extra pace fuels the adrenaline, potentially quickening up Warner’s at times lazy footwork from the first Test, while Leach’s inclusion will be music to the ears of Australia’s predominately left-handed top order.

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With the ball spinning in from Leach, Australia’s string of left-handers can also more easily get themselves outside the line of off stump to remove the threat of LBW, as well as use their feet and sweep in both directions as their attacking options.

Australia’s campaign couldn’t have started any better, but if there are any lessons to learn from the 2015 campaign, it’s that a side cannot lean too heavily on one individual.

Despite being named man of the match in Australia’s two victories, Smith averaged just 15.33 in Australia’s losses that year.

Form is temporary, even for players as good as Steve Smith.

And that’s what David Warner will be thinking heading into the second Test.

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There would be no better way to complete his own personal redemption at Test match level than at the home of cricket.