Steve Smith has emerged as the surprise front-runner to replace David Warner as opener, a move largely driven by convenience rather than the best decision for the team. After Warner’s retirement, Australia is set to take on a weakened West Indies side in a two-match series. Selectors have been struggling to find a suitable partner for Usman Khawaja at the top of the order. By stepping into the role, Smith appears to be the only viable option, with other incumbent middle-order batters refusing the position. This raises questions about whether the team should make such crucial decisions by waiting for volunteers rather than actively canvassing all candidates. Meanwhile, all-rounder Cameron Green is set to return to the team at number four, despite a form slump at the international level.
The upcoming series against the West Indies will provide little context for whether Smith as an opener or Green at number four will be a successful combination against competitive teams. The team also faces a challenging tour of New Zealand next month, where two of the top four players will have little Test match experience in their positions. Additionally, Smith’s technique, particularly dealing with LBW dismissals, has become more susceptible to scrutiny. Even Test captain Pat Cummins expressed hesitation about the sudden switch of Smith to the opening position. Meanwhile, specialist openers Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft, and Marcus Harris are waiting for a call from the selectors.
The Australian team is showing signs of fatigue, with some players struggling to maintain their peak form. Hazlewood and Starc lacked aggression in the first innings at the SCG, while Marnus Labuschagne and Smith appear to have lost some of their concentration. Usman Khawaja’s reflexes have also slowed down, affecting his performance in the field. The selectors have faced criticism for their decision to rest pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi from the Third Test against Australia. Resting him for the upcoming T20 series in New Zealand has been viewed as a shortsighted and cowardly move. Former players Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram have criticized the decision, suggesting that having Shaheen in the team would have improved Pakistan’s chances of making a significant impact.
In summary, the decision to have Steve Smith as the surprise front-runner to replace David Warner as an opener appears to be more out of convenience than the best choice for the team. Alongside concerns about player fatigue, the selectors’ decision to rest key players has faced criticism from former players and experts.