Steven Smith: ‘I could be batting three or I could be batting six. It’s about being flexible and adapting to what we’re facing’ © AFP
Buzzwords and key phrases quickly become clichés in cricket. Execute our skills to the best of our ability, anyone? How about being confident in our skill set? Or, the particularly Australian, Aggressive Brand of Cricket?
Now the word most often heard leading into Australia’s World T20 campaign is “flexibility”.
In some ways, Australia have no choice but to be flexible. Their preparation for this tournament has hardly been ideal. They switched captains a month ago, they have played only seven T20 internationals in the past 12 months – none of them in the subcontinent – and, since the last World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014, Australia have used 37 players in just 11 T20 matches. A day before the match, Steven Smith admits he still doesn’t know who will open or the make up of his bowling attack.
But this may not be as much of a disadvantage at it seems on the surface. India entered the tournament with the best possible preparation and the most settled side of the competition and were thwarted by Kane Williamson’s canny captaincy and flexible – there you have it – approach to selection.
Smith confessed he was “a little bit surprised” by New Zealand’s decision to omit both Tim Southee and Trent Boult from the opening match but says Australia will adopt a similar approach and are prepared to take risks in selecting a team that works best in specific conditions.
“I think that’s what we’re talking about,” Smith said. “Being flexible for the conditions, that we’re going to be faced with and it might be playing one side here, and in Bangalore it might be completely different conditions and we might put out a completely different side.
“So I think this tournament is going to take all 15 of us if we want to get to the end and be successful. And we have to be adaptable and flexible with our plans and teams that we pick.”
“Nothing at all is locked in,” Smith said. “Could be two righties [opening], could be left-right, could be two lefties. I could be batting three or I could be batting six. It’s about being flexible and adapting to what we’re facing, having the guys out there that are going to do well against certain bowlers and certain positions.”
While there have been questions surrounding the fitness of James Faulkner (hamstring) and Ashton Agar (stomach bug), Smith said both are fully fit and available for selection. But, in such a short tournament, he won’t shy away from the risk of selecting a player who may not be at full fitness, should circumstances call for it.
“I guess it depends on their whole skill set as well,” Smith said. “If one of the spinners went down and it looked like it was a spinner’s wicket and they weren’t 100%, it might be that you have to risk them because it’s going to be the best thing for the team. But I guess it’ll depend on each individual and what’s needed for different conditions that we play in.”
If the first round of matches played by the Associates in Dharamsala is anything to go by, the conditions will favour spin. But a new pitch has been prepared which ground staff have suggested won’t turn as much and will provide the best possible T20 wicket. After seeing the pitch and watching some of the earlier games, though, Smith believes it’s likely to be friendly for spinners.
“I noticed that the ball did swing around for a little bit, which was nice to see,” said Smith. “And the wickets did spin and were quite slow.
“I think it’s going to be about making sure in the middle overs our batters are going to have to be really smart. It might not be a case of hitting the ball out of the park, it might be about hitting the ball into the gaps and getting seven or right an over through those middle overs.”
“I guess that’s just about summing up the conditions, summing up how it’s all playing and being smart,” he said. “I think that’s something this group, particularly in the middle overs, has to work on. To make sure we’ve got the wickets in hand at the back end, because we’ve got some serious power in the sheds. If we do have the wickets in hand, we’re confident we can score a lot off the last five or six overs.”
While Smith may not know exactly where he will bat or if he will bowl an over or two of legspin, he is clear on his role as captain; to stay ahead of the game and be prepared to be proactive rather than reactive.
“I think it’s important to trust your gut, particularly in T20 games. When it’s so short it might be the case of even the last ball of an over. If someone is on strike that you want to be – you know, a left-hander, you might bring on an offspinner. Things like that. I think that’s credit to the boys. They’re pretty comfortable with all that and in 20 overs your bowlers have to be ready to bowl at any period of time because you can chop and change pretty quickly. It’s pretty good that we’re able to do that.”
Australia have played a total of just five T20 internationals against New Zealand, winning four of them. And, while they haven’t met in the shortest form for six years, Smith doesn’t believe the New Zealand squad holds any surprises for Australia.
“If guys aren’t prepared for what we’re going to face that’s pretty poor,” he said. “We know what’s likely to come at us in this game having seen this wicket and the way they played last game.
“It’s nice to have seen them play [against India] to see what they’re likely to bring to a wicket like this. The guys, they know what to expect. It’s now about going out there and making sure we execute our skills to the best of our ability.”
Executing their skills to the best of their ability, while playing an aggressive brand of cricket.
But, now, with a far greater emphasis on flexibility.
Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo