Run-machine Smith warns India he is back in top gear


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Australia batting superstar Steve Smith warned India on Tuesday that his game had finally ‘clicked’ and he was ready to justify his ranking as the world’s top Test batsman.

Smith admitted he was unhappy with his recent displays for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League, saying: “I never really got into a good rhythm.”

But he believed something changed this week as he prepared for the upcoming series against India, which starts with the first One-day International in Sydney on Friday.

“Over the last few days I’ve sort of found my hands, which I’m extremely excited about,” he told reporters on a conference call. “It’s taken me about three or four months to do it but I’ve found them now which is pleasing.”

The 31-year-old said it was difficult to define what was different, but it left him ‘with a big smile on my face’ and eager to hit the practice nets.

“It’s getting that feel, the look of the bat, getting the toe the right way, the way my hands come up on the bat,” he said. “It’s hard to explain but it hasn’t been right up until about two days ago, then something sort of clicked in.”

While there is a perception Smith is vulnerable to short-pitched deliveries, he was unfazed at the prospect of India’s bowling attack peppering him with bouncers.

“It’s a kind of flattery in a way, if that’s the only way people believe they can get me out because they’ve exhausted so many options,” he said.

“It gives me a lot of confidence.” He said his problems in the IPL stemmed from a failure to play his natural game.

“I got caught up a little bit with trying to be too powerful, that’s not quite my game,” he said.

“There are players around the world who can hit sixes at will — and I am not one of those — for me it’s about playing proper cricket shots, hitting the gaps, manipulating the field.”

Smith, who lost the Australian captaincy when he was banned for his part in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal, played down his prospects of resuming leadership duties.

He said he was focused on supporting Test captain Tim Paine and limited-overs skipper Aaron Finch, but did not completely rule out his future chances.

“I haven’t given a great deal of thought to it, it’s just about doing my job at the moment and we’ll see what the future holds,” he said.

Meanwhile, India head coach Ravi Shastri acknowledged his team lack Australia’s pink-ball experience but is convinced their ‘fabulous five’ pacemen can bowl the tourists to a second successive Test series victory Down Under.

Australia have played seven day-night Tests — the most by any country — since 2015 and won each of them.

India were late to embrace the innovation and played their only pink-ball test against Bangladesh in Kolkata last year.

A mouth-watering four-Test series between the top two teams in the World Test Championship standings will get underway with a pink-ball contest at Adelaide from Dec 17.

“We begin with pink-ball cricket where we lack experience,” Shastri told the Sportstar magazine. “We have played just one pink-ball Test, but there is a qualitative difference between them [Bangladesh] and Australia. It is like cheese and chalk. “Our boys have not played much of pink-ball in domestic cricket, but I just want them to go and enjoy their game.”

Skipper Virat Kohli, who led India to their maiden Test series victory in Australia two seasons ago, will return home after the Adelaide Test to attend the birth of his first child.

While it would take some sheen off India’s batting lineup in the last three Tests, Shastri was confident India’s five-member pace attack, which includes Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, could defend decent totals.

“We have a fabulous five … You put up runs on the board and watch these fast bowlers hunt the opposition. They can beat Australia in their own den.”

Shastri said the attack that also includes Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini is capable of giving Australia headache.

“Yadav has the experience. Saini is young and fast. Bumrah one of the best in business. Shami is raring to go. Siraj is an exciting prospect,” the former all-rounder remarked.“You put up runs on the board and watch these fast bowlers hunt the opposition. They can beat Australia in their own den.”

There was no pressure on the team and India would play ‘fearless cricket’ against the opponents Shastri considered the toughest. “Ask any international player and he will tell you that it is different. It is challenging. Toughest used to be the West Indies in the ‘80s and post that it has been Australia.”

Australia and India will play three One-day Inter­nationals, three Twenty20 Internationals and four Tests during the tour.

 


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