ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Ponting's delight at Smith progress
World Cup winner Ricky Ponting sees plenty to like in how Steve Smith has shrugged off the elbow injury in World Cup buildup
Louis Cameron in Southampton
23 May 2019, 05:49 PM AEST
Steve Smith is hitting top gear at the perfect time in Australia's World Cup build-up, as assistant coach Ricky Ponting revealed the former skipper is no longer inhibited by his elbow injury.
Following an Indian Premier League where he averaged 40 despite feeling the lingering effects of elbow surgery, Smith has found his groove in a series of impressive knocks for Australia.
The right-hander who was the world's No.1 Test batsman when his 12-month ban begun cracked scores of 89 and 91, both unbeaten, in World Cup warm-ups against New Zealand earlier this month, before transferring his form overseas with a match-winning 76 against the West Indies in Southampton on Wednesday.
Smith even bowled a couple of overs on the small Nursery Ground in a sure sign his elbow, which he currently straps up for batting but not for bowling or fielding, is in good shape.
"I had a good chat to him in India," said Ponting, who coached the Delhi Capitals in the recent IPL and has now joined Australia's support staff for the World Cup.
"As well as he played in a few of the games over there he still felt he probably wasn't physically 100 per cent.
"But you talk to him now and he feels he's physically 100 per cent.
"He's hitting the ball in the areas he wants to hit the ball and you saw today he's hitting the ball cleanly and hard and moving well, which is a great sign.
"From what I've seen with those two guys (Smith and David Warner), they've slotted back in beautifully and they're the same people as they were around the group before they left."
The postage stamp ground was expected to provide a six-hitting clinic, but at times threw up a bruising tune-up for batsmen.
Usman Khawaja had to retire hurt when Andre Russell got a short ball to rear violently, while Warner was undone for 12 off another lifting short ball from livewire quick Oshane Thomas.
But Smith was unruffled, sending his second ball sailing way over third man's head for six, before finding his timing expertly with a series of back-foot cuts.
"Best seat in the house," Shaun Marsh, who shared in a 109-run partnership with Smith, said of his vantage point.
"He has gone fantastically since he come back in good to see him score some runs no doubt he's ready for a big tournament … He has come back and scored some runs like he always does."
There was no hostile reception for Smith, or Warner, from the smattering of spectators who came to watch them at Hampshire's secondary ground on Wednesday, though Australia have said they're braced for a more colourful reaction when the tournament starts proper.
An official practice match against England on Southampton's main ground, the Rose Bowl, on Saturday could provide their first taste of it.
Of more immediate concern to Ponting and head coach Justin Langer is settling on their best top-order combination, after Warner was again inserted in at the No.3 position on Wednesday.
With scans on Khawaja's jaw coming back clear and Marsh sending a timely reminder of his class with a fluent half-century against the Windies, Australia will have a big decision to make for their World Cup opener against Afghanistan on June 1.
Langer has said the squeeze is a good problem to have, while Ponting was coy when asked about the Warner at first-drop experiment, saying "it might happen, it might not".
"Justin's trying guys in different places now," the three-time World Cup winner continued. "It just keeps them on their toes a little bit and it probably keeps the other teams just wondering what Australia is going to do with their line-up as well.
"I wouldn't read too much into what's happened here today (with Warner batting at three). Come the next game there's every chance Davey is back at the top of the order.
"One of the really pleasing things with the side is you've got competition for spots. Is Khawaja No.3? Is Marsh No.3? Is Khawaja opening? Is Warner opening?
"It's good healthy competition among the guys, it keeps them on their toes and keeps them working hard."
2019 World Cup
Australia's squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
May 22: (warm-up) Australia beat West Indies by seven wickets
May 25: (warm-up) England v Australia, Southampton
May 27: (warm-up) Australia v Sri Lanka, Southampton
June 9: India v Australia, The Oval
June 12: Australia v Pakistan, Taunton
June 15: Sri Lanka v Australia, The Oval
June 20: Australia v Bangladesh, Trent Bridge
June 25: England v Australia, Lord's
July 9: Semi-Final 1, Old Trafford
July 11: Semi-Final 2, Edgbaston
July 14: Final, Lord's
For a full list of all World Cup fixtures, click HERE