Australia v India Tests
Smith floats Test batting order shift
Australia captain says he's likely to bat at first-drop in series-opener against India
Sam Ferris in Pune
22 February 2017, 11:44 PM AEST
Australia captain Steve Smith says he will likely bat at No.3 in the first Test against India in order to break up the trio of left-handers in the tourists' top order.
Smith batted predominantly at No.4 during the home summer but is set to shuffle up one spot to disrupt the southpaw sequence and the threat of India's ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
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"It depends on what make-up of team we go with," Smith said on Wednesday when asked where he will bat in the first Test in Pune.
"Probably a good chance I'll be at three if we do have the three left-handers, just to break it up a bit.
"Good chance I will be at three but it'll depend on the make-up of the team."
Smith is no stranger to first-drop. In 20 innings when batting at the loss of the first wicket, the 27-year-old averages 66.22 with five centuries, the last of which came in Colombo against Sri Lanka last August.
Smith's favoured position is one spot lower at No.4 where he averages a remarkable 77.65 with nine centuries from 28 innings, including three tons against India.
Australia's top order will likely feature left-handers David Warner, Shaun Marsh and Matt Renshaw, who looks set to force another left-hander in Usman Khawaja out of the starting XI and make his subcontinent debut.
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The skipper's move to No.3 would be to counter Ashwin, who has been unstoppable on home soil this summer in capturing 61 wickets in nine Tests.
While the danger of Ashwin taking the ball away from Australia's left-handers is at the forefront of Smith's mind, a closer look at the Indian's Test victims suggests he's slightly more potent bowling to right-handers.
Ashwin averages 22.44 against right-handers compared to 23.83 against left-handers, with the split of wickets in favour of the lefties, 135 to 119.
Furthermore, of his 119 right-handed victims, 20 have been dismissed without scoring, meaning Smith – considered Australia's best player of spin bowling – will have his work cut out for him when facing the world's top-ranked Test bowler.
Smith played alongside Ashwin last year at the Rising Pune Supergiant in the Indian Premier League, but the cagey Indian would not give any secrets away, choosing to bowl leg-spin to the Australian in the practice nets.
Now Smith and his charges will have to deal Ashwin on a pitch that is predicted to spin from ball one and have more than one plan in place to counter the crafty off-spinner.
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"I know (Ashwin) is a quality bowler," Smith said. "He's got great skills.
"He presents different seam positions for what the wicket entails.
"He's a class bowler and he's very accurate the way he bowls, and he hits the right areas consistently.
"So guys have plans in place to play him, now it's about being able to implement those plans under pressure in the heat of the moment.
"Hopefully we can counteract what he brings at us."