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Prolific Smith plays down spin concerns

Captain concedes he was 'lazy' at times in first Test as statistics reveal troubles against left-arm spin

Australia skipper Steve Smith has dismissed suggestions he has a weakness against left-arm orthodox spin ahead of the second Test in Port Elizabeth starting on Friday.


With the second-highest Test batting rating ever, a career average north of 63 and 23 Test centuries to his name, there's not much opposition bowling strategists have to work with when trying to stop Australia’s run machine.

But Smith's shock dismissal to part-time tweaker Dean Elgar in the second innings of the Durban Test last week added fuel to the theory that he has a weakness against slow left-arm bowling.

When Smith missed his attempted sweep from Elgar's fourth ball, losing balance and being struck on the pad, it was the 14th time he had lost his wicket to a slow left-arm bowler in 41 Test innings since the start of the 2016 calendar year.

Elgar removes Smith on day three

Eleven of those dismissals have come in the subcontinent where conditions are at their toughest for Australia batsmen, and twice – in Colombo and in Pune – Smith already had centuries to his name.

Three other times he had passed fifty before falling to left-arm spinners; in the second innings at Pallekele in 2016, in Chittagong's first innings last year, and in the first innings of the first Test in Durban.

But Smith certainly struggled against the wily Sri Lanka veteran Rangana Herath on Australia's ill-fated 2016 tour.

His first dismissal in that series, charging the first ball he faced from Herath on day two only to be stumped, drew the ire of former captain Allan Border, who labelled it a "brain explosion … a wild hack at the ball".

2016: Smith shocker gives Sri Lanka early breakthrough

It was a nightmare the Aussie skipper struggled to wake from as he fell to the wily veteran five times in six innings on that tour.

According to analysis by CricViz, Smith averaged 15.8 against Herath in that series, and has managed an average of just 21.92 against all slow-left armers since 1 January 2016.

In that same time-frame, he has averaged 175 against left-arm quicks, 124.33 against right-arm seamers and 74 against all right-arm spinners, whichever way they turn it.

"I think I usually go OK, outside of Rangana Herath and (India's Ravindra) Jadeja," Smith said of his record against left-arm spinners.

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"Those guys have probably got me the most.

"I’m comfortable (with) how I’m playing spin at the moment.

"I feel like I’m a good player of spin and it doesn’t give me too many worries.

"Somebody has to get you out, I guess it's just been occasions the left-arm spinners have got me out more often than anyone else."

Smith falls to Maharaj on day one

The pitch at Kingsmead offered plenty of assistance for the spinners as Keshav Maharaj and Nathan Lyon both found themselves bowling inside the first 10 overs of each innings before the quicks became more potent with the old ball.

Both teams are expecting similar conditions at St George’s Park for the second Test, with Maharaj – and Elgar to a lesser extent – again looking to combat against Australia's most potent batsman.

"Well, we've done a lot of planning in terms of their batters," South Africa assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa told reporters after day three in Durban.

"I won't say it's luck (that slow left-armers have taken Smith's wicket twice), it's a bit of both I'd say."

But the Aussies have done their own planning.

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Jon Holland, a potent slow-left armer himself, has been in heavy use at Australia net sessions, alongside former India allrounder Sridharan Sriram.

A regular consultant to the Australian coaching staff in Asia, Sriram has spent plenty of time in the nets bowling his left-arm spinners, having worked with the team at home and abroad at various times since 2015.

Smith has confidence in the plans Australia have put in place to nullify Maharaj, but admits he got "lazy" when tackling the left-armer during the series opener.

"We wanted to keep him on for a bit longer as we felt he was probably the easiest to play and with the ball reversing as much as it was," Smith said.

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"I guess when you’re playing outside of the subcontinent, playing spin is a lot easier than anywhere else in the world and maybe you can relax a little bit and perhaps not get that big stride in that you need to get in India or think the ball isn’t going to spin as much and get a bit lazy.

"So perhaps I got a little bit lazy at times and didn’t have the same concentration levels that I had in India at the start of last year.

"And if I have that concentration then hopefully I don’t get out to him."

Steve Smith v all bowling types
(batting average since Jan 1 2016)

Right-arm seam: 124.33
Left-arm seam: 175.00
Leg-spin: 74.00
Off-spin: 74.00
Left-arm orthodox spin: 21.92

First Test wrap: Aussies triumph in Durban duel

Select Test averages v SLA bowling 
(min 500 balls faced, since Jan 1 2015)

Cheteshwar Pujara (IND) - 119.50
Virat Kohli (IND) - 81.20
Dinesh Chandimal (SL) - 60.42
Azhar Ali (PAK) - 60.40
Joe Root (ENG) - 54.90
Alastair Cook (ENG) - 45.62
Hashim Amla (SA) - 43.80
Steve Smith (AUS) - 32.00
Faf du Plessis (SA) - 20.30

Qantas tour of South Africa

South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.

Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights

First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard

Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13. Live coverage

Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage

Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage