How to get Steve Smith out
It is the question England have tried and struggled to answer throughout the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston – just how do you remove Steve Smith?
The former Australia captain admitted he had enjoyed “a dream comeback”, marking his first Test in more than a year following his suspension for his role in the ball-tampering scandal with majestic innings of 144 and 142 in the 251-run win over England.
In doing so, Smith became only the fifth Australian to register twin hundreds in the same Ashes contest as he left England with plenty of soul-searching to do ahead of their trip to Lord’s for the second Test later this month.
A chink in the armour?
There is much speculation injured seamer James Anderson and out-of-form Moeen Ali will make way for paceman Archer and slow left-armer Jack Leach, but will they prove any more effective against a titan of a performer, whose current Test average of 62.96 is bettered only by the great Sir Don Bradman among batsmen with a minimum of 20 innings?
First, the good news – CricViz data has highlighted a chink against orthodox left-arm spin, an average of 34.9 is comfortably his lowest among the various modes of bowling, seemingly playing into Leach’s hands.
Smith is dismissed against that type of delivery every 75 balls, with Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath and India’s Ravi Jadeja among those to trouble the right-hander by moving the ball away from him.
Now for the bad news….
Those successes for Herath and Jadeja came of course on turning sub-continental surfaces. While the Birmingham track resembled Bangalore on Sunday and Monday, that scenario is hard to envisage at Lord’s, where the pitches traditionally favour seamers.
It is little wonder Moeen has struggled to find an answer for Smith: against orthodox right-arm spin the Australian averages a Bradman-esque 92.85, a dismissal every 154.5 deliveries.
And now for more bad news: Smith’s career mark against right-arm pace stands at 68.38, while against fast left-armers it is remarkably similar at 65.28, with dismissals every 122.6 and 98.2 deliveries respectively.
Any other pointers for Lord’s?
The analysis suggests taking pace off the ball may be something to consider for the seamers.
Deliveries in excess of 140kmh, the speed at which Jofra Archer tends to operate, seem to pose few concerns for Smith as an average of 92.66 would attest. Anything from 120-139kmh is around the mid-60 mark.
However, the average slips to 36.5 when seamers send down balls under 120kmh.
While regulation left-arm spin and slower deliveries have been beneficial in the past, it is worth keeping in mind that averages in the mid-30s against these types of bowling do not indicate a weakness.
But Smith now has 10 Test centuries against England and, as he has displayed in recent days and in the 2017/18 Ashes, right-arm fast-medium and orthodox off-spin does not trouble him enough.
If England want to avoid this series going the same way as their last trip Down Under – when Smith top-scored with 687 runs at 137.4 – they could do worse than looking at what has caused problems for Smith in the past.