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Smith scrambling to make T20 World Cup squad as diminishing white-ball returns put spot in jeopardy

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Expert
30th November, 2023
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Steve Smith’s blistering tons for the Sydney Sixers last summer were spectacular but the exception, not the rule, when it comes to Australia’s best modern batter and the game’s shortest format. 

After a mediocre performance by his lofty standards at the ODI World Cup, Smith has returned home after playing in the first two T20s for Australia against India. 

His half-century  at opener in the first match was his first in T20s for Australia since 2019, breaking a 28-game drought between raisings of the willow.

It’s plain to see that Smith is not suited to T20 cricket, rarely has he been throughout his illustrious career and he’s in the side by trading on his reputation in the longer formats. 

His average is not terrible by T20 standards but nor is it impressive at 25.69 and he strikes at 125.17 for his career, certainly nothing to sneeze at.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, INDIA - NOVEMBER 26: Australia's Steven Smith plays a shot during game two of the T20 International Series between India and Australia at Greenfield Stadium on November 26, 2023 in Thiruvananthapuram, India. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images)

Steve Smith plays a shot at Thiruvananthapuram. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images)

But even when he was pelting India’s second-string attack to the boundary eight times in the series opener, it looked forced.

The smashmouth nature of T20 power hitting does not come naturally to him.

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His 52 off 41 was a fine effort on the batting-friendly but up the other end, Josh Inglis, leapfrogged him in the pecking order with 110 from only nine more deliveries than Smith faced. 

That’s the kind of hitting that’s needed in the T20 game.

Glenn Maxwell is Australia’s T20 version of Smith’s Test dominance and he’s ruined it for everyone else. 

Even Smith is reduced to a mere mortal in this arena when compared to Maxwell’s explosive hitting, which was on display again in the third match at Guwahati when his 48-ball 104 propelled the Aussies to an improbable victory when they needed 43 off the final two overs, finishing with a six and three fours.

After the final two matches of this series on Saturday and Monday morning (AEDT), Australia will play just six more T20s before the World Cup in the US and Caribbean next June.

Smith is suiting up for the Sydney Sixers in the BBL and even though he may only squeeze in a few matches in magenta around Test duties, he needs every chance he can get to convince the national selectors he’s worth a seat on the plane to his beloved US.

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During his cameo last season he blasted a ton against Adelaide and backed that up with 125 not out against the Thunder on the way to averaging 86.5 in his five-game stint.

You can pretty much ink in 10 members of the Australian squad for next year’s World Cup now – the pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh as all-rounders, Adam Zampa as the frontline spinner, Travis Head and David Warner as openers with Josh Inglis and Matthew Wade to be the keeper options.

Cameron Green and power hitter Tim David are likely to be in the mix so that leaves Smith fighting it out with the likes of Matt Short, Aaron Hardie, Ashton Turner, Ben McDermott and Marcus Stoinis for the remaining batting slot given the Aussies will probably also pick another quick and spinner to round out the squad.

Smith is no guarantee to get that spot. Even if the Aussie selectors follow their World Cup playbook by using Zampa as their sole specialist spinner with Maxwell the back-up option to include another batter in the squad, Smith is struggling to put distance between himself and his younger rivals who have been better performers in the BBL over several years. 

Head and Warner are Australia’s best openers, Marsh has a mortgage on the No.3 spot and although Maxwell has traditionally batted at five or lower, if the top three chew up the majority of T20 overs, he should be going in next.

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Smith has tried to reinvent himself as an opener in T20s but he’s at best Australia’s fourth-best option. 

Whether he can cling on to a spot in the team appears doubtful with younger, more suitable options at Australia’s disposal, but the current national selectors are reluctant to end a legend’s career early in any format. 

They stuck by Aaron Finch for too long and paid the price for it at the last World Cup in Australia just over 12 months ago.

There is a sense that next year’s T20 tournament is the last hurrah for the current group of established players who dominate across the formats before they retire or scale back their national team commitments.

At 34, Smith’s time in Australian colours is coming to an end and his best option to extend his career is to concentrate on his strongest format, which is 4.5 days longer than this T20 escapade.

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