He is one of the world’s best batsmen and among the finest to have ever played for the country but Steve Smith’s return has not bolstered the confidence of Australia’s batting order, according to Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Coulter-Nile said Smith’s experience, particularly in the field, would be crucial but that it hadn’t changed much else for a team on an eight-game ODI winning streak without him and David Warner.
Warner and Smith returned to Australian colours on Monday for the first time since the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, making scores of 22 and 39 in a one-wicket win in the first of three World Cup warm-up matches against New Zealand at Allan Border Field.
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Smith looks set to return to Australia’s middle order after effectively squeezing out the in-form Peter Handscomb from the squad.
Coulter-Nile said Smith’s experience, particularly in the field, would be crucial but that it hadn’t changed much else for a team on an eight-game ODI winning streak without him and Warner.
“I don’t think it does (add confidence to the batting order); the blokes who missed out were so unlucky,” he said, paying special credence to Handscomb who averaged 43.54 with a strike rate of 98.15 across his 13 ODIs this year.
“Petey was smacking them, we were so confident with him walking in.
“So I don’t think it changes the group confidence, which is good. We still have the same feeling around the group.”
“It’s just experience (that they bring) … they’ve seen so much cricket, know what’s going on.
“Having Steve Smith or David Warner standing at mid-on, mid-off having a chat (while you’re bowling) is invaluable.”.
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While Smith was not at his free flowing best with the bat, he did set tongues wagging with an acrobatic catch to remove Tom Latham — a diving one-handed effort at mid-wicket. While Coulter-Nile was sceptical the dive was necessary, the effort does allay concerns Smith’s elbow will hamper him at the World Cup after undergoing surgery in January.
“Bit of carry-on, wasn’t it? I thought he could’ve got there on his feet,” the quick said with a grin.
“But he’s actually gotten really good at rolling off his elbow, done a lot of practice on that, even when he dives like that one-handed.”
Smith’s elbow was heavily strapped and he fielded either in the slips or inside the ring, avoiding the need to throw over any significant distance.
He had surgery in January and allayed fears of re-injury late last month after taking a spectacular outfield catch for IPL team Rajasthan Royals. He said at the time he was throwing at “probably 70 or 80 per cent” and expected to be at 100 per cent well before the side’s World Cup defence begins against Afghanistan on June 1 in Bristol.
Australia plays the second of three games against the Black Caps on Wednesday.