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Smith shares batting secrets with Stokes

Australia captain shocked star England allrounder in IPL by putting national rivalries aside to share knowledge

Ben Stokes may have been named the Indian Premier League's Most Valuable Player but the England allrounder has revealed he couldn't have done it without the help of Australia captain Steve Smith.

Smith, who also led the Rising Pune Supergiant team who were edged out by the Mumbai Indians in Sunday's IPL final, was thankful for a series of blockbuster performances from Stokes in his debut season in the tournament.

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But while Stokes missed last weekend's finale after returning home for England's build-up to next month's Champions Trophy, he lived up to his A$2.8million price tag and billing as the most expensive overseas player in IPL history during the 14 group matches he played.

Yet ahead of a year that will see England and Australia lock horns first in the Champions Trophy and then the Ashes series at the end of the year, it was perhaps surprising to learn that Smith has been helping Stokes improve his batting.

You might think a man who scored his maiden Test century against Australia at Perth back in December 2013, went on to score the second-fastest double hundred in the format in Cape Town in January 2016 and then struck a brutal, unbeaten 63-ball 103 against Gujarat Lions in the IPL earlier this month is dangerous enough with the bat already.

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Smith, though, has been keen to impart his knowledge to Stokes, a selfless act that could come back to bite Australia over the coming months.

"From playing with a guy you play against – England v Australia and the hype around England v Australia – then playing with him, it was really good actually," said Stokes.

"I remember doing a batting session with some power hitting where the guy who I will actually be playing against in the Ashes in our winter was helping me, which is something that you would never be able to fathom when you are playing against each other. The IPL is probably the only place where you get that."

Asked if he was sure Smith was actually helping him, a grinning Stokes replied: "It would be a good tactic if he wasn't."

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Australia and Smith will come face to face with Stokes and England at Edgbaston on June 10 for both teams' final group match of the Champions Trophy.

Qualification for both teams – in a section that also includes New Zealand and Bangladesh – could be riding on the result.

However, Stokes believes England, just back from a four-day training camp at the same Desert Springs resort in Spain where they prepared for the 2015 Ashes, deserve to be considered favourites for the tournament on home soil, even if their ODI ranking of fifth perhaps doesn't reflect that status.

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"I think we're the favourites going into the tournament and we've earned the right with how we've played over the last two years," said the 25-year-old.

"We've been amazing and we go into this knowing teams are maybe fearing us. But we're keeping our feet firmly on the ground. We just know as long as we play to our capabilities we're in with a good chance."

On the IPL, Stokes relished his experiences alongside Smith and company at Pune.

"Yes, it was an amazing tournament to be part of," he said. "And getting the MVP is obviously something you strive for when you play in tournaments like that.

"I guess if you go out there and perform you are obviously going to be up there but just playing in the IPL and the whole experience around it, the exposure, playing with and against players from all around the world was a pretty good one.

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"I think it has helped my game in certain areas, being able to work with specialist coaches in Twenty20 cricket.

"I think my bowling has gone up another level, working with Eric Simons (Pune's South African bowling coach). All in all I think my areas are a lot better and tighter than they have been recently in one-day cricket, which came from just working solely with him over the six weeks I was there.

"And other aspects as well – batting in different situations and different pressure – you would hope that coming away from that tournament all parts of my game have got better."

Given his exploits of recent weeks, Stokes is now likely to command a fee in excess of A$3m when he goes into next year's IPL auction.

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But the Durham player, speaking ahead of England's three-match ODI series against South Africa starting in Leeds on Wednesday, says the hefty price tag he has had to cope with this year did not weigh heavily on his shoulders.

"I just wanted to go out there and perform, and that's how I would have judged myself leaving the tournament," he said.

"It was quite easy, once everything started, to wipe that under the table.

"I would have walked away with the same amount of money if I did well or not. But if I came away not having performed well I would have been very disappointed. Obviously things went quite well so I was happy on a whole with that side of it."

Champions Trophy 2017 Guide

AUSTRALIA SQUAD: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa

Other squads: Every Champions Trophy squad

Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.

Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.


Schedule


Warm-up matches


26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval

27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston

28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval

29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston

30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston

30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval


Tournament


1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)

2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)

3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)

4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)

5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)

6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)

7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)

8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)

9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)

10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)

11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)

12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)

14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)

15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)

18 June – Final, The Oval (D)


19 June – Reserve day (D)

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