ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Smith's knock brings World Cup boost
The sight of Steve Smith dominating bowlers with an expansive repertoire of clinical strokes was as welcome as it was familiar
Andrew Ramsey at Allan Border Field
8 May 2019, 07:56 PM AEST
If, perchance, Steve Smith and David Warner had forgotten just how fine are the margins between failure and fruitful during their absences from international sport, they were both afforded stark reminders today.
Warner's return to the top of Australia's batting order in their second 50-over warm-up game against a New Zealand XI yielded a rare recent failure for the left-hander who had dominated the current iteration of the Indian Premier League.
Faced with a delivery from Black Caps seamer Doug Bracewell – his sixth ball of the morning – that leaped a little from a length, Warner bunted a catch to cover point and was back in the sheds without a run to his name.
Not that he stayed there for long.
Still clad in his playing strip, he marched to the practice nets on the adjoining Ray Lindwall Oval and engaged in a lengthy round of throw-downs delivered by men's team batting coach Graeme Hick, to provide a rough replacement for the time he'd missed in the middle.
Straight to the practice nets for David Warner after he fell for 0 in Australia XI’s second ODI warm-up game against NZ XI in Brisbane pic.twitter.com/f0dF6msL1k— Andrew Ramsey (@ARamseyCricket) May 8, 2019
Not long after Warner finally called quits on his remedial work, Smith made his way to the middle in the role of number five batter and very nearly replicated the misfortune to have befallen his former vice-captain.
Before he had scored, Smith attempted to turn a delivery from seamer Blair Tickner behind square leg only to have the ball take a top edge and loop invitingly towards keeper Tom Blundell only for it to go over his head.
Any thoughts that such a flukey start might evolve into a cautious innings were banished in the next over, with the emphatic swing of Smith's bat that deposited one of Todd Astle's leg-breaks beyond the fence at extra cover after a dainty two-step down the pitch.
From that moment, the ex-Australia skipper did not miss a trick and barely an opportunity until the final ball he faced – also the last of his team's 50-over innings – which skewed from the toe rather than the middle of his bat.
The single that Smith completed from that mis-hit saw him finish 89 not out from 77 balls faced (with four sixes and as many boundaries), though the frustration he aired at missing that final scoring chance meant he barely acknowledged the applause that accompanied his walk from the field.
The final result of the second of this week's three unofficial World Cup preliminary matches – a seven-wicket win by a confident if under-strength NZ – suggests the reigning trophy holders have some improvements to make before their defence begins in three weeks.
As such, the sight of Smith dominating bowlers with an expansive repertoire of clinical strokes that occasionally extended to the outrageously audacious, was as welcome as it was familiar.
Unlike Warner, Smith's IPL returns were solid but not spectacular, and whispers persisted about the influence he might wield on the quadrennial ODI tournament, particularly given the ongoing discomfort he has experienced from his injured right elbow.
Smith first damaged the joint when firing a throw from the infield during the New South Wales final of the National Premier T20 championship at the SCG last December.
He did not believe it was a serious issue until the following month when, during a fielding drill with his Bangladesh Premier League franchise Comilla Victorians, he tried to hurl a ball into a coach's baseball mitt and – with a loud 'crack' from his elbow – it instead landed a metre or so from his feet.
The mishap was initially diagnosed as a form of 'golfers elbow' – usually caused by inflammation of tendons – but Smith returned to Australia for a more detailed scan, and was told he required surgery to repair ligament damage.
Had he delayed that procedure for a further week, he likely would have needed a full elbow reconstruction which would have sidelined him for months.
As part of his rehabilitation, Smith has undergone expert tuition that required him to spend hours at a suburban football field where he repeatedly threw himself to the ground to train himself to land safely on his shoulder rather than risk further damage to his elbow.
As was shown during the IPL last month, any failure to replicate those rehearsed landings causes him significant pain, and he remains unable to throw at full pace due to a fear of aggravating the injury.
While Smith has been able to employ a work-around over recent months by flicking returns using an underarm action or gentle overarm throws, that luxury will disappear during the World Cup when every half-chance becomes potentially crucial.
As such, Smith won't know whether the 'anchor' that remains in his elbow attaching the damaged ligament will give way under the increased strain until he tests it in the heat of battle.
It's understood that, when batting, the greatest inconvenience he feels is the tight strapping that stretches from his forearm to near his shoulder and can hinder some of his more idiosyncratic movements with bat in hand.
However, it's likely the greatest stress to be placed on his elbow will come during the frantic white-ball competition of the World Cup when he will be required to launch himself at rival bowlers, and hurl down the stumps if run-outs beckon.
The more staid nature of Test cricket, where he can play largely traditional strokes and field almost as a specialist slips catcher, coupled with the additional recovery time he will enjoy means his involvement in the Ashes series starting August 1 is not problematic.
That's provided he makes it unscathed through the seven-week World Cup campaign that begins for Australia against Afghanistan on June 1.
But as Smith and Warner both well understand, even before the events of today, such are the glorious uncertainties of professional sport.
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 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