Justin Langer: Steve Smith given full range of opening experiences in first crack but has nothing to prove

Justin Langer
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Steve Smith has relished the challenge of moving up the batting order as his career continues.
Steve Smith has relished the challenge of moving up the batting order as his career continues. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

A respectful chuckle would be how I would describe it.

The build-up to Steve Smith joining the opening batter’s brotherhood was highly publicised.

Will he, wont he? Will they, won’t they? How will he go? Can he adapt?

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Before the last Test match in Adelaide, I interviewed the greatest player of this generation on Channel 7 and asked him how he was feeling about the move up the order to number one.

Keeping in mind that most players in his age bracket tend to move down the order, not up it, to lengthen their careers, Smith is bucking the trend.

Talking to him just before the toss of the coin, he was clearly excited about the challenge of opening the batting. You could hear it in his voice, see it in his face. Smith’s relaxed demeanour was no surprise to me as he has nothing to prove to anyone. He is a superstar of the game, an all-time great.

He may have taken inspiration from Usman Khawaja who has trodden a similar path of moving up, not down. Or maybe he was simply energised by a change and the adrenaline rush of taking on the new ball. Only he knows that.

So, what of the respectful chuckle?

Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja of Australia walk out to open the batting during the Mens Test match series between Australia and West Indies at Adelaide Oval on January 17. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja of Australia walk out to open the batting during the Mens Test match series between Australia and West Indies at Adelaide Oval on January 17. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

In days past when I opened the batting, there were a few pet hates. Firstly, there was the toss of the coin. Bat first and my nerves ignited an energy to get out there and take the first ball. Bowl first and I would take a breath, relax and enjoy the morning so much more.

When Pat Cummins won the toss and sent the West Indies in to bat, the first time since 1980 that a team has won the toss and bowled in Adelaide, I thought of Smith.

With so much anticipation in the lead up, I am sure he would have felt that ignition of expectation and excitement when his captain won the toss. But, when Cummins ignored tradition and bowled, he would have felt a little deflated, even relieved. Either way, his experience of watching the coin go up would have felt different than previous times.

The second chuckle came when the West Indies’ number 10 and 11, Kemar Roach and Shamar Joseph, put on 55 runs for the final wicket. This was pet hate number two for me as an opener. A wagging tail would often take away my energy, because I would spend a lot of time thinking about batting, rather than focusing on fielding.

These frustrating periods were draining and I am sure it was no different for Smith and Khawaja last week. The extra hour in the field may have provided entertainment for some, but I am sure, not for the two Australians preparing to bat.

My final respectful chuckle over Smith came when Australia had to chase just 22 runs to win the Test match. Short run chases are never much fun, as you have much more to lose than gain. You know your role is to get the job done, but losing your wicket in those short run chases often sours the final celebration.

Smith didn’t have to worry about a bittersweet celebration as he finished the game on 11 not out. Believe it or not, he would have taken confidence from this small score. Although he missed out in the first innings, he will be better for the run and will be ready to go again on Thursday in the day/night Test match in Brisbane.

Australia have had a few COVID concerns in the lead up, but they again go into this Test as unbackable favourites.

The West Indies showed glimpses of hope in Adelaide, but like big brothers playing little brothers in the backyard, their moments of optimism and courage were soon extinguished by Australia’s class, experience and confidence.

I don’t expect that trend to change over the next few days.

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