England to persist with Plan A for Smith: Root
Home side's skipper confident their initial strategy to quell Steve Smith can work, despite his twin tons in Ashes opener
Andrew Ramsey in London
13 August 2019, 10:24 PM AEST
After having more than a week to ponder how best his team might formulate a strategy to dismiss Steve Smith, England captain Joe Root believes the answer might well lie in keeping their plans from Edgbaston.
Smith was player of the match and the difference between the teams in the Ashes series opener, scoring 286 runs off his own bat in Australia's 251-run win.
So dominant was the former Australia skipper in his return to Test cricket after a 16-month absence that much of the post-match discussion revolved around methods by which bowlers might curb his influence.
Root acknowledged that England's brains trust have themselves been engaging in similar discussions in the eight days since the first Test concluded, but noted that patience might have been the key element missing from the Edgbaston blueprint.
And he has put his hand up to admit it was his urgency to remove Smith that potentially proved costly in the game's final outcome.
"You’re always looking at different ways how you can try and get someone out," Root said when asked if England were out of ideas to quell Smith and his appetite for runs.
"I think maybe one thing that we could have done slightly better, me personally as captain, was stick to a plan for a little bit longer and give it a chance to work a little bit more.
"He did play well, but I think it was 18 times early on in that first innings he played and missed, so it could have been very different.
"In some ways, that’s a sign that plans are working.
"We’ve just got to be a little bit more patient with it.
"And he’s got to start again this week (at Lord's) ... new challenge, new wicket, different atmosphere.
"I think it’s very important that whatever way we decide to go, we’re confident it’s going to work and back our ability to execute it well.”
England have made two changes to their squad for the second Test that is scheduled to begin at Lord's on Wednesday morning, although weather forecasts suggest that might be disrupted by rain.
One of those changes was forced upon them, with their leading Test wicket-taker James Anderson unavailable due to a calf injury and likely to be replaced by Barbadian-born fast bowler Jofra Archer making his Test debut.
The England selectors have also axed off-spinner Moeen Ali and recalled left-arm finger spinner Jack Leach, seemingly swayed by statistical data that shows Smith is less potent against left-arm spin.
But as has been mentioned often by his Australia teammates and coaches over the past week or more, Smith is renowned for his ability to size up whatever opposition bowling comes at him and overcome that challenge in minimal time.
It led to former Test captain Steve Waugh likening Smith to a computer, such is his capacity to solve problems that arise when he is batting in the middle.
And the influence he wielded during the first Test at Edgbaston is also best captured by citing some crucial numbers.
Over the course of five days at Birmingham, Smith lifted his Ashes runs tally from 2026 (average 56.28) to 2312 (average 60.84) which catapulted him from 18th on the list of Australia's all-time Ashes scorers to ninth.
The players he overtook in those two sizeable bounds stand as testament to his talent – Arthur Morris, Ian Chappell. Warwick Armstrong, Syd Gregory, Mark Waugh, Bill Lawry David Boon, Michael Clarke and Victor Trumper.
Perhaps more instructively, among the Australian men to have played 10 or more Ashes Tests, only the incomparable Don Bradman (89.79) averaged more than Smith's current return against the nation's historic foe.
As Root concedes, it's not only the volume of runs that Smith scores that has rivals and experts scratching their heads in search of a weakness, it's the manner in which he scores them.
The England captain noted that Smith's myriad idiosyncrasies when at the crease – his twitching, fidgeting, extravagant gestures and exaggerated movements – can potentially trick bowlers into over-thinking their plans to find a way through his uniquely water-tight technique.
"It's something you've got to look past," Root said of Smith's batting-crease antics.
"A lot of what he does is try to put you off in a way, trying to make it look extremely different so you have to think way outside the box.
"You look at his dismissals over a period of time it's not far away from everyone else's - the movements before and after it might look slightly different but it's just being really clear on how we want to go about it.
"When we go to a plan, we've got to be really ruthless with it, and stick to it.
"To make sure if we're not getting him out, we're containing him and building pressure on him at the other end."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval