Legends of the game have offered Pakistan some tips ahead of the first Test against Australia at the Gabba with Steve Smith seemingly the biggest issue standing in their way of an upset.
Smith, after returning from his ball tampering ban, plundered 774 runs at 110.57 against England in the Ashes series.
Smith proved to be the biggest difference with Australia riding to the victory on the coat-tails of the star as he announced his return to the international game.
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But Australia can’t expect Smith to always score runs and coach Justin Langer has already issued a challenge to the top order to score runs.
Smith and Matthew Wade were Australia’s only centurions during the Ashes series and there has been a dearth of centuries in Test cricket in recent times.
It took six Test matches for an Australian to hit a ton last summer with four coming in the final match of the summer.
And Smith will be expected to dominate once again at the Gabba, where Australia hold a 28-game unbeaten run over the past 31 years in Test cricket.
With Australia expected to once again lean on Smith, former England skipper Michael Vaughan believes Pakistan can get the star early.
“As much as he’s the best Test match player that I’ve seen, he’s also a human being, you’ve just got to keep telling yourself that,” Vaughan said. “If you can, as well as you can put the ball on and around the fourth stump full of length as often as you possible can, there is a chance he miss one, play across one.
“But he is an incredible player because he does have generally more concentration, he seems to be able to assess what the bowler is trying to do to him early, he seems to be able to pick up the ball out of the hand better than I’ve ever seen any player. But Pakistan have just got to keep telling themselves it’s one ball, and it generally takes a long time, but if you can do that you can force him into an error or you can bowl a decent ball and find the outside edge.”
Cricket great Wasim Akram also conceded the key for Pakistan would be getting Smith out.
Langer has already tasked his top order to “embrace the spotlight” and prove they deserve to be in Australia’s top order so as not to just rely on the superstar batsman.
He told SEN’s Whateley that Pakistan should be obsessed with getting Smith out.
“They should be,” he said on SEN’s Whateley. “I’m obsessed. I throw balls to him in the practice nets and I’m obsessed with trying to find a way of getting him out. I can’t do it.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Anyone that averages 64 in Test cricket, there’ll be sharp focus on them. We had sharp focus on Virat Kohli last summer, we had sharp focus on Joe Root during the Ashes tour, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Vaughan also admitted that Australia’s current strength is the bowling attack, singling out Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood as being “right up there with the best” of any era.
But the rise of the bowling attacks has exposed a weakness across world cricket as top order struggle under the pressure of improved bowlers.
“I think a lot of the batting units around the world are very similar, there seems to be a vulnerability in many of the top sixes in Test match cricket but maybe the bowling is just of a high quality,” he said. “There is some high quality bowling which makes Test match cricket a great product at this stage because you want bowler to get something out of most surface and because of the quality, they generally are.”
But after not having strong performances throughout the order in the Ashes, Australia are eager to end their struggles in the top order as captain Tim Paine said the top seven were hungry for runs.
“There is no secret that during the Ashes, we relied too heavily on Steve, the rest of our top seven are really keen to score a lot of runs,” he said. “Traditionally we love batting in Australia, higher scoring grounds than where we’ve just come from over in England. I know our batters are really looking forward to the chance to getting out there. Our country has had some real success at this ground, it’s a great ground if you can get in and spend a lot of time out there so our top six or seven are really looking forward to it.”
Vaughan said returning the Ashes would be a huge boost for Australia to return home, although the former England skipper conceded it should have been a 4-0 victory rather than just retaining the famous urn.
The secret will be lateral movement as the young bowling attack has been tipped to be a difficult prospect for Australia.
And if Australia want to return to the top of the rankings, Vaughan said the side needs to be consistent.
Originally published as Smith key to Australia’s 31-year dominance