Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

With Steve Smith ruled out David Warner and Co need to step up to the plate in third Ashes Test

Australia’s opening wicket total this summer against England reads 2, 13, 11, 13

Steve Smith during a nets session at Headingley. The Australia batsman has been ruled out of the third Ashes test after failing to recover from concussion symptoms. Reuters
Steve Smith during a nets session at Headingley. The Australia batsman has been ruled out of the third Ashes test after failing to recover from concussion symptoms. Reuters

After only two Tests Australia are back to life without Steve Smith. Well at least for one Test anyway.

Replacing a man who has scored 378 runs at an average of 126 this Ashes series is a tall order, but for Australia it is vital. It's no exaggeration to say that Smith has carried his fellow top six batsmen in the first two Tests against England.

A lot has been made of England’s own misfiring batting line-up so far, but Australia owe the fact they are 1-0 up in this series due to the heroics of Smith.

It is time for the other Australia batsmen to step up at Headingley when the third Test begins on Thursday. Australia can retain the Ashes urn if they win in Leeds, but they must do it without Smith, with Cricket Australia on Tuesday ruling the 30-year-old will out as he has not fully recovered from the concussion he suffered after being struck by Jofra Archer on the neck during Saturday’s fourth day of action of the second Test at Lord's.

Take Smith out of the equation and in the four innings so far this series Australia have one century (Matthew Wade) and two fifties (Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne) to show for their endeavours.

Wade’s innings, though, needs context: he was up against a worn out England attack down an injured James Anderson and a horribly out-of-form Moeen Ali by the time he batted at Edgbaston in the first Test.

Taking these into account, it is evident just how heavily Australia have relied on Smith’s runs, as well as some excellent performances from their bowlers, led by Pat Cummins.

As to where the runs will come from in Smith's absence Australia will be looking at the top of the order for significant improvement.

David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, like Smith, are back in the side after serving their bans for their role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March 2018 that rocked Australian cricket.

But unlike Smith neither has convinced on their returns to the Test arena.

Warner, in particular, has really struggled, surprising given how well he batted in Australia’s run to the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup earlier this summer, hitting 647 runs, at an average of 71, with three centuries.

But he is averaging a miserable 4.5 so far in the Ashes. He has looked tentative and has been dismissed three times by England's Stuart Broad in four innings.

A lot of credit has to go to England for how they have handled Warner so far, but his foot movement has looked clumsy and his judgment askew.

Bancroft is also struggling and the confidence built up from playing county cricket in England over the summer looks to have deserted him badly in these conditions.

Australia’s opening wicket total this summer reads 2, 13, 11, 13. The top two have folded like a deck of cards and it has instantly had the Aussies under the pressure from the off.

Smith has come in at No 4 to get them off the hook but he will not be able to repeat the feat in Leeds.

Usman Khawaja (No 3) and Head (No 5) have both shown signs of being in good nick without kicking on, while Marnus Labuschagne looks a great prospect after making 59 as Smith’s substitute replacement at Lord’s.

Australia are by no means an one-man team. That is an easy headline and an insult to their bowling attack. But Smith has played a big role in getting them ahead in this series.

Australia now have a chance to prove they are not reliant on Smith. But for that to happen the other batsmen must step up and score big runs.

That will not be easy with England having improved their own bowling with the venom of Archer and the accuracy of spinner Jack Leach.

The majority of Australia’s top order have underwhelmed so far and have thus far got away with it. But they will know more poor performances in Leeds risks giving England a great chance to level the tie and dent their own ambitions to be the first Australian side to win an overseas Ashes series in 18 years.

Updated: August 20, 2019 03:25 PM

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