Steve Smith may not be the batsman he was a year ago before his suspension but the World Cup 2019 owed a big thanks to him for preventing the much-anticipated semi-final clash between Australia and England from becoming agonisingly one-sided on Thursday.
Smith had had a quiet World Cup compared to his own lofty standard as David Warner and Aaron Finch scored the bulk of the runs for Australia to steal the limelight.
Warner, Smith’s partner-in-crime on many occasions, made most of his chances at the top to hit three centuries, which gave him a way to redeem himself from the ball-tampering scandal.
Smith’s flexible batting number denied him the chance and until the semi-final he had to remain content with just two fifties that could not be enough for a batsman of his calibre, touted as world’s best not so long ago.
Australians have debated if they were wasting Smith’s talent by sending him in different positions as he struggled to adjust, which prompted calls from many former greats to use him at his favoured number three.
Smith has been used in his prime batting spot only twice in the tournament but has spent six innings at number four and one even at number six when they looked for quick runs against Bangladesh.
It evidently affected Smith’s batting as he could score just 294 runs at 32.66 in the World Cup before the semi-final.
This was far less than his career average of 40.93 and his average of 52.06 in one-down position.
The reason for keeping his batting order flexible was perhaps because the Australians wanted to maintain a left-right combination at the first drop.
In two games that Smith was sent at one down to make 69 against India and 10 against Pakistan it was apparently because Aaron Finch, a fellow right-hander, had been dismissed before the left-handed Warner.
The same routine was followed against England on Thursday when Smith came out to bat as Finch got out in the second over before Warner.
Australia had to do it anyway as left-handed Usman Khawaja was ruled out of the tournament with injury.
Smith perhaps could not anticipate his role would turn from a mere one-down batsman to team’s saviour once they lost two more quick wickets to be reduced to 14 for three in little over six overs.
These are the times when teams usually turn towards their best and most experienced players to get themselves out of a bind. And there was no better player in the Australian side to do the job for them.
Before being run out by a brilliant direct hit from Jos Buttler as the team’s eighth batsman, Smith held one end to make 85 off 119 balls, helping Australia post 223 runs.
While this may not be enough against a ruthless England side, it at least gave the Australian bowlers something to fight with.
Smith has played much better innings in the past but he finally took his chance to re-announce himself at world stage with it, which was added incentive for Australia.
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