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Aussies face huge call over batting experiment with Smith and Green failing again as Windies turn Test on its head

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Expert
26th January, 2024
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The Australian selectors were adamant they had selected the best six batters in the country when they controversially recalled Cameron Green and switched Steve Smith to opener. 

But the experiment is off to a woeful start after both players failed for the second straight Test as the West Indies dominated day two at the Gabba to despite Australia’s tail fighting back after the top order collapsed. 

In reply to the Windies’ 311, the Aussies recovered from 4-24 to reach 9-289 before a late declaration left the tourists a tricky eight-over spell in the shadows of stumps. 

To rub salt into Smith’s wounds, he dropped a straightforward slips chance when Kraigg Brathwaite was on three but opening partner Tagenarine Chanderpaul (four) nicked off to Josh Hazlewood for the Windies to be 1-13, holding a lead of 35 and a strong chance of building a match-winning advantage on Saturday.

Australia are facing the very real possibility of their first home Test defeat in three years against the understrength Windies, who have not been victorious in this country for more than a quarter of a century. 

Smith was trapped in front for six in the first over and Green (six) surrendered his wicket with a soft shot. For all the talk of Smith wanting to go to the top of the order, all evidence thus far is that he looks like a fish out of water.

Steve Smith of Australia looks dejected.

Steve Smith of Australia looks dejected. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

He made just 12 in Adelaide in his opening foray before he nicked off to a ball that a specialist would have left alone. 

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This time around he started confidently with a pull shot from the opening delivery of the innings and a sublime on-drive to the boundary. 

However, as he’s done several times in recent years as his reflexes appear to have faded, he produced his trademark shuffle across the stumps to whip the ball through mid wicket but missed it completely. 

How umpire Nitin Menon gave it not out is knowledge only he possesses but Kemal Roach immediately gestures to captain Kraigg Brathwaite for a video review and the footage confirmed Smith was stone cold gone. 

Australia’s current selectors are renowned for sticking with established players even when form drops off, as evidenced by their continued faith in the now-retired player that Smith has replaced at the top of the order in David Warner. 

But unless Smith and Green strike form in the second innings, the Australians could not only be losing this Test but headed for trouble on their upcoming tour of New Zealand and next summer’s home showdown with India. 

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“He has been dismissed twice as an opener now and he is going to be dismissed a lot more as an opener,” wicketkeeper Alex Carey said when asked about Smith in the media conference after stumps.

“He is one of the best batters in the world and he will find a way to score big hundreds. 

“He has done it in really difficult situations before … a big innings is coming up and hopefully it is in the second innings.”

Green has dominated at first-class level batting at four but after coming in no higher than six in his first three years in the Test team, he has been elevated to his preferred spot with the lure of making it his long-term spot. 

After nicking off early in Adelaide last week for just 14, he again went cheaply at a time when his team needed him to occupy the crease following two quick wickets. 

He played a nothing shot to a half-volley on off stump straight to mid-off and Roach could not believe his luck. 

Green has the ability to be a devastating all-rounder for Australia but apart from a ton last year on a benign pitch in India, he has not been able to translate that immense potential into consistent meaningful contributions with the bat. 

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The selectors had three specialist openers who they could have chosen to replace Warner.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Kemar Roach of West Indies celebrates dismissing Cameron Green of Australia  during day two of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and West Indies at The Gabba on January 26, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Kemar Roach celebrates dismissing Cameron Green in Brisbane. (Photo by Albert Perez – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Cameron Bancroft, known as “Bangers”, was banging down the door by topping the Sheffield Shield run-scorers last summer and this one too but that was apparently not enough. 

Will the selectors concede they have made the wrong call and return Smith to the middle order and bring Bancroft, Matt Renshaw or Marcus Harris in? 

Unlikely. But they need to be sure they’re not being stubborn by refusing to consider they got the initial call wrong. 

Smith and Green could come good soon or it could be a long way down the track. 

But if the top order continues to falter like this against the team ranked eighth in the world, it is unlikely they will suddenly start firing against the best bowling attacks. 

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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Kevin Sinclair of the West Indies celebrates taking the wicket of Usman Khawaja of Australia during day two of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and West Indies at The Gabba on January 26, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Kevin Sinclair celebrates taking the wicket of Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Marnus Labuschagne (three) had departed soon after Smith when he was snared by impressive debutant Kevin Sinclair’s diving catch at fourth slip off Alzarri Joseph.

After Green’s meek surrender, Travis Head feathered a wide delivery down leg-side first ball to Roach and Mitchell Marsh’s attempted counter-attack ended on 21 with the fifth wicket falling at 54. 

Australia’s only true opener, Usman Khawaja, was playing his role to perfection – leaving plenty of deliveries to anchor the innings and he found a complementary ally in Carey.

The Australian keeper took the fight to the bowling off the back and front foot, thumping nine fours and a six, racing to a half-century off just 38 deliveries. 

He did have a slice of luck with the ball clipping his off bail and after spinning in the slot, it stayed in place. But he also gifted his wicket to the Windies on 65 from the 49th ball he faced, pulling a Shamar Joseph short ball straight to Tag Chanderpaul in the deep at square leg. 

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Mitchell Starc (two) didn’t last long before Alzarri’s short-ball tactics led to an edge through to Joshua da Silva’s gloves and at 7-161, the home side was still 150 in the red. 

With Khawaja raising the willow after 102 deliveries, Pat Cummins overcame a few hairy moments early to peel off an 81-run eighth-wicket stand in quick time. 

Khawaja became Sinclair’s first Test victim when he edged an expansive off-drive to slip and the Guyanese spinner unleashed a backflip in celebration. 

Cummins kept swinging in unison with Nathan Lyon to not only bring up his third half-century but register his highest Test score of 64 before his tail-end comrade’s run-a-ball 19 ended with a nick behind off Alzarri Joseph (4-84). 

The Windies started day two at 8-266 and completed the rebuild mission from 5-64 with a few more wags of the tail – Sinclair and Roach added 31 before the veteran seamer departed after a comical run-out. 

Sinclair bashed Nathan Lyon down the ground for a four and a six to bring up 50 in his first trip to the crease in Test cricket before he tried one big hit too many to be the last wicket to fall, stumped by Carey from the following delivery.

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