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Aussie cricketers get chance to reverse Wallabies hoodoo as Smith recalled to prove he's World Cup worthy

22nd February, 2024
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22nd February, 2024
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For decades, Auckland’s Eden Park has been a place where Australian dreams went to die.

Ask any Wallaby who has played there since 1986.

However, this weekend another Australia side have the rare opportunity to lift a trophy at the venue, with Mitch Marsh’s Twenty20 team arriving with a 1-0 lead in the Chappell-Hadlee series.

Wednesday’s sensational last-ball triumph means Australia need to win just once at the fabled rugby ground, with matches scheduled for Friday night and Sunday afternoon, to claim the trophy.

Just like the first match of the series in Wellington, when Australia passed the Black Caps’ 3-215 on the last ball, the Auckland clashes are expected to be run-fests.

The last visit to Eden Park by Australia’s men’s T20 side came in 2018, when a team captained by David Warner broke the world record for a second-innings score – chasing down New Zealand’s 6-243 with seven balls remaining.

Australia coach Andrew McDonald said the short boundaries down the ground and behind the keeper at Eden Park would require discipline from the bowlers.

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“We’ll try to get them to hit to the long boundaries more often than not,” he said.

“Defend straight and get them to hit square. We’ll keep it as simple as that.”

Steve Smith is likely to come into the Australia XI, with Matthew Wade also in contention after delaying his arrival in New Zealand to be at the birth of his child.

It looms as the last chance saloon for Smith to showcase his T20 credentials and play at a fourth T20 World Cup in June.

The stakes are high for Smith who doesn’t have an Indian Premier League contract, making the hit-outs pivotal to show form for June’s T20 World Cup.

Mitchell Marsh celebrates Australia's win over New Zealand.

Mitchell Marsh celebrates Australia’s win over New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Given his recent run with the bat – eight single-digit scores in the past 15 matches and a 52 against India last November the only half-century in the last 25 outings – Smith has missed out on a spot in the Australian XI and may battle to make the travelling 15-man squad.

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Marsh admitted as much when he named Travis Head, David Warner and himself as the first-choice top three this week, with selectors thinking of Smith mainly as a top-order option in his twilight years.

McDonald confirmed Smith was “in our thinking” but also in a race for his spot. “There’s competition for places and that’s a good problem to have,” he said.

“We’re playing him for a reason. If he wasn’t in our thinking then he wouldn’t be on the plane over here. There’s 20 plus players that are in our thinking. We’re not settled in terms of the final 15 at this stage and that’s why these games are really important.”

Smith hasn’t featured regularly in the shortest format at international level for two years, playing just once at the last T20 World Cup and twice since, in last November’s series in India.

In two Big Bash innings this season, he made 61 and a duck.

Without IPL cricket to look forward to, which McDonald called the closest thing to international-level cricket, the Eden Park clashes loom as crucial for Smith. 

“He’ll get some opportunity here. How he goes in those opportunities, I think will dictate what happens,” McDonald said.

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“We’ll probably play him in a slightly different role than we’ve seen … he’s gone to the top of the order in recent times, so batting higher up and I think there’s still competition for places.

“We’ll work through to a 15 and give ourselves as many options in that 15 to negate what the West Indies surfaces will challenge us with.”

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)

Marsh admitted he’d set the hares racing on the likelihood of Smith missing that tournament with his comments earlier in the week.

“I understand that it always raises eyebrows when Steve Smith gets left out of the team,” he said.

“But we’re certainly building towards the World Cup and we’ll give lots of guys different opportunities over the next few games. So he’s one of them.”

There’s also a change in Kiwi availability, with Tim Southee making way for fellow quick Trent Boult, who arrives straight from playing in the International League T20 in the United Arab Emirates.

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Boult was the pick of the quicks in the tournament final, taking 2-20 as his MI Emirates defeated the Dubai Capitals.

After four straight games in which they have conceded more than 200 runs, concerns the Australian attack is too leaky can be put in context by them winning three of those matches.

“We don’t want to be chasing 216 too often,” Marsh said. “But on these grounds over here – on the great wickets, small grounds – we have to get used to defending or chasing 200.”

Australia: Mitch Marsh (capt), Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Spencer Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa.

New Zealand: Mitchell Santner (capt), Finn Allen, Trent Boult, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Adam Milne, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Ben Sears, Ish Sodhi, Will Young.

© AAP

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