England have to ignore Steve Smith’s ticks and mannerisms if they are to work out a way of getting him out and save their Ashes hopes, according to captain Joe Root.
Root has admitted for the first time that England allowed Smith’s idiosyncratic batting style to throw them off their plans in the first Test at Edgbaston where he became only the fifth Australian to score hundreds in both innings of a Test match.
During the last Ashes series, Australian broadcaster Channel 9, counted Smith going through 23 twitches and movements before putting bat to ball. At Edgbaston he looked even more jumpy at the crease as he looked to conquer the movement of the Dukes ball early in his innings.
Root believes England lacked patience in Birmingham and he was partly to blame by too quickly setting quirky fields to shut off Smith’s unusual scoring areas instead of concentrating on the basics of hitting off-stump and finding the outside edge.
Smith scored 215 at Lord’s in a big Australia win four years ago and since that match is averaging 95 against England with six hundreds in 14 innings including a double century.
“It's something you've got to look past,” Root said of Smith’s technique. “A lot of what he does is try to put you off in a way, trying to make it look extremely different so you have to think way outside the box. You look at his dismissals over a period of time, it's not far away from everyone else's, the movements before and after it might look slightly different.
“You're always looking at different ways how you can try and get someone out. I think maybe one thing that could have done slightly better, me personally as captain, was stick to a plan for a little bit longer, give it a chance to work a little bit more. But he did play well. I think it was 18 times early on in that first innings he played and missed.
“It could have been very different. In some ways, that's a sign that plans are working. We've just got to be a little bit more patient with it.”
Of the two teams it is England, the home side, who are unclear about their best XI for this game. England usually name their team the day before the match but the threat of heavy rain today has made them cautious.
England want to squeeze Sam Curran into the side but that would mean dropping Joe Denly. It is very rare for a team to go into a Test match thinking of dropping their No4 and it sums up the state of their batting. The pitch is very dry which means Jack Leach should play even if it is a damp start to the Test.
Jofra Archer will make his Test debut and his pace will pose Smith a new challenge. Root likes Archer’s confidence and the way he responded to Australians this week questioning his experience bowling in first-class cricket despite a career average of 23 for Sussex. They were right in that he has played only 28 first-class matches in his career, mostly in the second division, and it would be remarkable if he is fully fit given he admitted to being in excruciating pain during the World Cup from a side injury that delayed his Test debut.
But England players have talked this week about how nasty he has been to face in the nets and Root described Archer’s bouncer as “not pleasant” to play against. The only time Smith looked fazed at Edgbaston was when Ben Stokes hit him on the head at the end of the third day. Earlier this year Archer revealed that Smith did not want to face him in the nets when they played together at the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, preferring instead to have throwdowns from the coaches.
“You know, if you ask him, he'll definitely say yes,” said Root when asked if Archer is the player to win the Ashes for England. “Having heard his press conference yesterday, he’s certainly very confident. And that's great to see in a young guy, as he should be off the back of a brilliant World Cup. And as he made very clear, he says it’s his preferred format, red ball. So again, very excited to see him at the start of a journey.”
“He’s exciting to stand at slip to, and he's very skilful young guy. He can swing the ball both ways. He's got a good bouncer and bowls at good pace consistently. So I'm sure he'll cause problems on most surfaces. And hopefully, he can exploit this one this time around.”
Lose here and the Ashes are over for England. The last time a team came back from a 2-0 deficit in the Ashes was in 1936-37 and then Australia had Donald Bradman in their side. Root knows what is at stake this week.
“We're in English condition, we really back ourselves to perform and to come back strong after last week. We've proven that we do that time and time again when we when we've been defeated, especially at home,” he said. “And I'm expecting a big response from the boys. Last week, will have hurt everyone and everyone will be absolutely desperate to go and win this week. And I expect nothing less.”