Smith exposes troubling tampering truth

If there were any positives to be found in the aftermath of Australian cricket’s darkest hour they included the Aussies being given a kick up the backside to change their reputation as on-field bullies and unearthing new stars in the batting vacuum left by Steve Smith and David Warner.

The first has been achieved. There’s no doubt Australia — the newly minted Ashes holder — has won back respect for the way it’s played and conducted itself since the ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year.

The second opportunity is still a work in progress.

Twelve months without its best batsmen gave Australia a golden chance to expose new batting talent capable of surrounding Smith and Warner for years to come. But nearly 18 months after sandpaper touched leather, the Aussies are still searching for the perfect top six.

Before Cape Town, Smith and Warner did the bulk of the scoring — but Australia’s reliance on the best since Don Bradman went to another level this Ashes.

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Smith has scored an astonishing 671 runs at an average of 134.2, cracking a double century, two hundreds and two half centuries with a lowest score of 82.

The rest of Australia’s Ashes top seven have scored just 1132 runs between them, meaning Smith has accounted for a whopping 37.22 per cent of the runs scored by the first seven in the order.

Keep in mind he’s done that despite missing three innings (the second innings at Lord’s and the entire match at Headingley) because of concussion. Imagine how much higher that percentage would be if Smith hadn’t been forced out of action.

If you only take into account the five innings in which he’s batted, then the rest of the top seven have been outscored by him, having managed just 661 runs in the digs where Smith made an appearance at the crease.

Smith has been superhuman but his comrades have been sub-par.

A lone ranger.Source:Getty Images

The opening combination was changed after two Tests with Marcus Harris replacing Cameron Bancroft before Usman Khawaja was axed for the fourth Test.

Matthew Wade scored a century at Edgbaston but is still averaging just 25.1 across eight innings and Travis Head has played two important knocks but averages just 27.3 for the series, having been bowled in three of his last four knocks.

Countless options were trialled in a bid to plug the holes left by Smith and Warner during their year-long absence as selectors churned through a revolving door of top six contenders. Here are a list of batters who played Test cricket during those 12 months who have been dropped at one point or another: Aaron Finch, Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labschagne and Marcus Harris.

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Harris is back in the team after Bancroft flopped on his return to international cricket but the left-hander has scored just 46 runs in four innings.

One shining light has been the coming of age of Labuschagne, who may not have even played in this series had it not been for Smith’s concussion. The 25-year-old has emerged as a long-term Test prospect after being in and out of the side over the course of this year and last, making the most of his latest opportunity by striking four half centuries in five innings.

Apart from that, Smith’s dominance has highlighted just how bare the batting cupboard is and coach Justin Langer knows more players need to stand up. But he stressed it takes time for young guns to learn how to be successful at Test level.

“He (Smith) has done a lot for Australian cricket for the last few years actually, and so has Dave Warner,” Langer said. “But we’ve also got to remember, Travis Head is new to Test cricket, Marnus is new to Test cricket, Marcus Harris is new to Test cricket, Cameron Bancroft is new to Test cricket.

Walking in and out again like Grampa Simpson.Source:AFP

“You can’t just give them that experience, they’ve got to earn that and we’re very thankful to have Steve batting (like he is). I’ve never seen batting like that.

“We’re lucky to have him but Test cricket takes time. We’ve got to respect that, it takes a lot of time. Davey hasn’t had a great series but imagine how good the team will be when he starts having a great series and we’re hopeful he’ll do that in the next Test match.

“The other guys are learning as they go and that’s all part of the experience. I said at the start of the series I thought the team that bats best will win the series because both teams have got very good bowlers.

“Our bowling attack is world class, we’re very lucky and we’re going to have to keep working on that batting.”

Retaining the Ashes with a 185-run win at Old Trafford means the pressure is off slightly for the final Test at The Oval but Langer took a lengthy paused as he pondered his response when asked whether securing the urn allows the team to give the younger players who aren’t at the peak of their powers another crack in London because the series is already over.

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“They’ve still got to perform. As Australian Test cricketers, you’ve still got to perform but … whether it makes a difference that we won the Ashes or not, time will tell,” Langer said.

“You’ve still got to perform whether you’re young or a veteran but we also have to recognise they are young batsmen and it’s a really tough school and hopefully they’ll come through at some point.”

Head has shown plenty of promise in his first 12 Tests, averaging 42.7, but will be desperate to convert more of his frequent starts, having scored just one century against an understrength Sri Lanka.

When Smith and Warner were out, Khawaja averaged a relatively modest — by his standards, at least — 36.05. At a time where Australia needed its best and most experienced batter to step up, he was unable to really dominate, save for a magnificent, match-saving 141 against Pakistan in the UAE last year.

Khawaja’s lean run continued into the Ashes and after failing to reach 50 in six innings, he was dropped in Manchester to allow Labuschagne to keep his place. What the 32-year-old’s Test future looks like from here remains to be seen.

For now Australia can revel in Smith’s success but if the new brigade of batsmen can’t find their feet soon, he won’t be able to paper over the cracks forever.

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