Men's Ashes 2021-22
Ashes the 'main goal' for rehabbing Smith
EXCLUSIVE: Superstar batsman hopeful of taking part in the T20 World Cup, but will sacrifice his involvement if it means being fully fit for Australia's defence of cricket's oldest prize
2 July 2021, 05:02 PM AEST
Steve Smith will rule himself out of the ICC T20 World Cup if he must in order to be fit for this summer's Ashes, with Australia's star batsman taking a meticulous approach to his rehabilitation from tennis elbow.
While Smith, who withdrew from the current white-ball tour of the Caribbean and Bangladesh owing to the left elbow injury, remains hopeful of taking part in both showpiece events across the coming six months, the Ashes – which he has dominated like few batsmen in history – is foremost in his plans, as Australia look to take possession of the urn for a third-straight series for the first time since 2002-03.
The T20 World Cup is scheduled to run from October 17 to November 14, before Australia take on Afghanistan in a Test match from November 27, with the first Vodafone Ashes Test beginning December 8.
"There's still a bit of time between now and (the T20 World Cup), and I'm tracking okay at the moment – it's slow, but I'm going okay," Smith told cricket.com.au.
"I'd love to be part of the World Cup, for sure, but from my point of view, Test cricket, that's my main goal – to be right for the Ashes and try to emulate what I've done in the last few Ashes series I've been involved in."
Even a fully fit Smith will be doing well to replicate his performances from recent Ashes battles; the world's number two ranked Test batsman has scored a staggering 1,969 runs at 93.76 in 14 matches across the past three series, with eight hundreds.
The nearest to that through the same period is England captain Joe Root, whose tally of 1,163 runs from 15 matches falls a distant 806 runs shy of Smith's.
Those numbers underline just how crucial the 32-year-old's involvement will be for the hosts when the rivalry resumes at the Gabba in a little over five months' time, and Smith wants to settle for nothing short than being at his absolute best.
"I want to put myself in a position where I can have that kind of impact," he said.
"If that does mean not partaking in the World Cup, then we'll have to go down that path, but hopefully we don't have to go there."
Smith believes his current ailment began with pain in his left wrist at the start of last summer following a change in his batting grip, then moved into his elbow as the season wore on. The New South Welshman ultimately pulled out of domestic action for a month through February-March, then returned in a 50-over match with NSW on March 31, making 86 not out, before heading to India for the Indian Premier League.
"I still wasn't quite 100 per cent (during the IPL), it was still bothering me a bit, and I was playing over there medicated – taking some painkillers and anti-inflammatories every time I batted," he said.
"It got to a point where it wasn't really improving much, and it probably got a little bit worse while I was over there."
Smith played six matches for Delhi Capitals before the tournament was suspended due to the pandemic, and after a period of rest upon returning home, has been working diligently on his rehab.
He has reached out to other cricketers who have suffered the same issue – Brad Haddin, Peter Nevill and Cameron White – for suggestions and insights into their own journeys to recovery, while at one point he also tried a platelet rich plasma injection that, he says, "didn't do much for me".
Instead it has been a gradual approach to his more traditionally favoured net batting that has been bearing fruit.
"I've made a bit of progress with it the last few weeks," he said. "I started some batting, just 10 minutes at a time, and basically my path now to getting back to playing is building up from there.
"Because it's a tendon (injury) it's basically how you (feel when you) wake up the next day, so I start at 10 minutes and if I wake up the next day and I'm good, then I can go up to 12 minutes, and if I wake up well again, I go up to 15.
"Currently that's where I'm at – 15 minutes – and I've got to build up to 45 to get myself to a point where the medicos believe I can be comfortable.
"I actually woke up a little bit sore after my last hit, so next hit, I'll stay at 15, and that's how it works.
"The Ashes is the primary focus from my point of view, (so) I need to be in a position where I can bat for long periods of time, and at the moment I can't do that, which is annoying.
"But I'm getting there slowly, which is hard – for someone who wants to hit a million balls, it's not great being capped at 15 minutes.
"But I understand now that this sort of thing can take some time, and if I want to get myself right for the summer, then I need to take these measures seriously, and take my time."
The other facet of Smith's rehabilitation is strength exercises focused on the muscles surrounding his left elbow, particularly his forearm, as he looks to take as much stress away from the joint as possible.
The right-hander is wrestling with what he calls the "innocuous" nature of the injury; he has no trouble doing biceps curls, for example, but if he attempts to "pick up a glass of water with an outstretched hand" the pain will hit. Similarly, and more pointedly, the pain can also strike when he cocks his wrist while holding a cricket bat.
"(It's) as soon as I turn my hand over and I'm loading the forearm … it's bizarre," he added. "(And) because the elbow is sore, I try and get in different positions and now my shoulder's a bit sore, just because I'm trying to protect it (the elbow) … it's frustrating.
"I'd love to be playing right now (with Australia in the Caribbean) – I hate missing any cricket – but of course there's a bigger picture."
Tickets for the 2021-22 season will go on sale here on Monday July 5 from 2pm AEST.
2021-22 Men's International Season
Vodafone Men's Test v Afghanistan
Nov 27 – Dec 1: Test match, Blundstone Arena
Vodafone Men's Ashes v England
Dec 8-12: First Test, The Gabba
Dec 16-20: Second Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 5-9: Fourth Test, SCG
Jan 14-18: Fifth Test, Perth Stadium
Dettol Men's ODI & T20 Series v New Zealand
Jan 30: First ODI, Perth Stadium
Feb 2: Second ODI, Blundstone Arena
Feb 5: Third ODI, SCG
Feb 8: T20, Manuka Oval
Dettol Men's T20 Series v Sri Lanka
Feb 11: First T20, SCG
Feb 13: Second T20, The Gabba
Feb 15: Third T20, Metricon Stadium
Feb 18: Fourth T20, Adelaide Oval
Feb 20: Fifth T20, MCG