Smith up for Wagner battle, at ease with World Cup fate

Ben McKay |

Steve Smith is relishing his new role as an opening batter for the Australian Test team.
Steve Smith is relishing his new role as an opening batter for the Australian Test team.

Steve Smith has all but admitted he’ll miss the T20 World Cup after his poor showing in New Zealand, saying he’s “not too fussed” whether he goes to the tournament in June.

Ever the competitor, the 34-year-old great has put the T20 disappointment in his rear-view mirror, eyeing a return to hostilities with Kiwi seamer Neil Wagner in the Test series starting on Thursday.

Just has he’s done in the Test team, Smith replaced David Warner at the top of the Australian order for the second and third T20s at Auckland’s Eden Park, falling cheaply each time.

“I got a couple of decent balls to be fair,” Smith told AAP.

On Friday, he paddled at a rising ball well outside off stump, snicking it behind, and on Sunday he was trapped in front by Lockie Ferguson, possibly the bowler of the series.

“(Adam) Milne got one to take off in the second game, which was tough,” Smith said.

“Lockie, when that sun was setting, it was quite difficult to pick up and he gave me a nice in-swinger.

“Look, it wasn’t ideal, but it is what it is and whatever will be will be from here.”

Smith, a three-time World Cup winner, including the 2021 T20 edition, said he didn’t think there was an opening for him in the T20 side.

T20 World Cup 2021
Steve Smith was part of the Australian team that won the 2021 T20 World Cup. (AP PHOTO)

“I think they’re pretty settled up top, to be honest, with (Travis) Head, Warner and (Mitch) Marsh in the top three,” he said.

“I’m not really sure what (selectors) want to do. I’m not really too fussed either way. If I’m there, I’m there. If I’m not, I’m not.”

Exclusion from the World Cup squad could end his international T20 career, but Smith’s relaxed attitude towards that sat in contrast to his enthusiasm for the upcoming Test series.

In his 107-Test career, Smith has toured New Zealand for Tests just once – and dominated.

He averaged 131 in a two-Test series in 2016, making 71 at the Basin Reserve, then backing up with 138 and an unbeaten 53 at Hagley Oval – the venues for this year’s series.

In the most recent Tests between the two nations – the 2019/20 series in Australia – Smith’s battle with Wagner was well documented, with the South African-born Kiwi dismissing Smith four times in five innings.

Neil Wagner
New Zealand bowler Neil Wagner has an outstanding record against Australian veteran Steve Smith. (Michael Dodge/AAP PHOTOS)

Wagner’s figures against Smith – 4-27 off 26.3 overs – certainly suggest an edge.

Three of those dismissals were pull shots and another was a bouncer, leading to suggestions Wagner had set the blueprint for Smith’s wicket – something the Aussie called at the time “a beat-up”.

“I obviously got out a couple of times to Wagner, but a couple of times in the second innings when I was trying to take him on when we were well in front of the game,” Smith told AAP after that series.

“He’s pretty skilful the way he does it, how he can bowl between your rib and shoulder.”

Smith is expecting “something very similar” in this series.

“He’s pretty good at that short-ball stuff. He does it consistently to a lot of people and he’s done really well with it,” he said.

“Daresay there’ll be a bit of that throughout the series and, yeah, he’s good at it, so that’ll present a challenge.”

Smith confirmed he would open the batting again in New Zealand, downplaying the difference from his previous roles.

“It’s fun, but honestly I don’t see it as anything different,” he said.

“I batted at three for an extended part of my career and I batted at four, where I’ve been in inside of two overs. It’s really nothing that new to me.”