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Clarke’s back injury could be Smith’s ticket to restarting his Test career
Australia all-rounder Steven Smith has found himself playing with the big boys once again after being called up as Test captain Michael Clarke’s reserve as he continues to nurse his chronic back problems.
According to reports, Smith will serve as Clarke’s shadow until at least the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.
Pakistani-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed also has a chance of playing after being granted Australian citizenship by the government and 19-year-old left-arm spinner Ashton Agar will continue tagging along with the Australian Ashes squad as an intern, just like he did when the baggy greens toured India in March.
Smith has been in excellent form as of late, smashing a century for Australia A against Ireland and helping the side grasp a narrow win over Gloucestershire as well.
It was after the Gloucestershire match that Smith was given the news of being included in the Ashes squad as a reserve.
While many cricket pundits and former players believe Smith was unlucky to have not been selected in the initial 16-man squad, given his performances against India, national selector John Inverarity admitted that Smith has the potential to be a future leader.
“The first uncertainty was with David Warner’s suspension. He won’t be able to play before the first Test so his preparation will be anything but ideal,” Inverarity said. “Even though Michael Clarke, his back is improving and we fully expect him to play in Taunton, there’s that little bit of uncertainty about his back. So it could be that if Michael’s back went again we’d be short of a batsman. So it was obvious we needed to bring another batsman in.
“Steve’s a young man, we’re really hoping he comes through as a player, he’s a very talented player, good cricket sense, a good batter, runs between the wickets well, a brilliant fielder, his occasional leg breaks might come in handy, but he was the next batter and we needed the cover, it was very obvious. In Ireland it was apparently a very difficult wicket, some good players got knocked over early so he had to fight to get through it, and he did so very well, made a very good head-down hundred.”
Meanwhile Ahmed struggled against both Ireland and Gloucestershire, but Inverarity defended the leg-spinner, saying that bowling spin in cold and windy conditions is by no means an easy task.
However, even if Ahmed does not get his chance to play on the biggest stage of them all, he and Agar are certainly set to represent Australia A on their tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe later this month.
Ahmed’s chances of playing the first two Tests are slim at best as Trent Bridge and Lord’s offer more assistance to pace bowlers than they do to spinners.
But, all is not lost, as Ahmed could potentially be selected for the third or final Test at Old Trafford and The Oval since spinners tend to triumph more on those surfaces.
“I’ve said all along if we were to add a player to the squad it was likely to be a spinner – because of the Warner and Clarke situation we’ve actually added a batsman,” Inverarity said. “But we still have that option open to add a spinner. Nothing’s changed in that regard. Fawad’s flying home tomorrow, and the procedure for him to become a citizen will continue, and then the intention is for him to go to South Africa, as it is for Ashton.
“Ashton being 19 years of age and being here it’s an ideal development opportunity so he’ll stay with the squad until he goes to South Africa. If we decide to have another spinner it will be one of those two. Ashton staying as a development player is no indication whatsoever that he’s now ahead of Ahmed.
“My overwhelming impression [in Bristol] was that the conditions were terrible to bowl spin bowling. It was cold and with a gusty breeze. Very difficult conditions for him to bowl both in Ireland and here. He’s a very good bowler. If we were to call on him he’s broken the ice with the players and gets on very well with the players. He’s a lovely man.”