Falling into LBW trap: Smith’s crisp signature shot deserts him just when Australia need it most at World Cup


There is no danger of Steve Smith losing his spot in the batting squeeze brought about by Travis Head’s return but Australia cannot win the World Cup if the vice-captain remains in his form slump. 

Superstar batters rely on a signature shot and for many years Smith has feasted on walking across his stumps to clip the ball off his pads to bring up runs and bring down bowlers.

But over the past six months, he’s become a target for LBW dismissals, particularly to seamers early in his innings, and he’s struggled to dominate in his usual fashion. 

When an all-time great loses the ability to go to their go-to move, a career can end swiftly. 

Back when Ricky Ponting started getting hit by bouncers rather than pulling them to the boundary with majestic monotony, he knew it was time to retire. 

Steve Smith. (Photo by Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Since Smith returned from a minor wrist complaint from the Ashes which kept him out of the white-ball tour to South Africa, the 34-year-old has tallied just 269 runs at 28.89 from five warm-up matches and his four World Cup outings with just two half-centuries in that stretch. 

His troubles with LBWs actually started during a short county stint prior to the Ashes when he was given out three times in as many innings in making 30, 3 and 89 for Sussex in division two, although a couple of them appeared to be dubious umpiring decisions.

Ben Stokes in the first Test at Birmingham and Mark Wood in Manchester also trapped Smith in front just when it looked like he was ready to convert a promising start into a mammoth score during what was, by his stratospheric standards, a modest Ashes campaign of 373 runs from 10 knocks.

In his nine ODI matches since, he’s been sent on his way three times due to seamers getting through his previously impenetrable guard to rap him on the pads. 

OpponentRunsDismissalMatchPakistan7Return catch to spinnerWorld CupSri Lanka0LBW to seamerWorld CupSouth Africa19LBW to seamerWorld CupIndia46Bowled by spinnerWorld CupPakistan27Caught behind off seamerWarm-up gameNetherlands55Stumped off spinnerWarm-up gameIndia74LBW to seamerWarm-up gameIndia0Caught at slipWarm-up gameIndia41Bowled by seamerWarm-up game

Smith reworked his white-ball technique to be more side on at the crease a year ago to not only be more still at the point of delivery but to give himself greater access to the off side so he can hit cover drives in a more classically upright way. 

While the initial returns were promising in a 50-over series against England and an explosive BBL stint, he has struggled on the lower tracks of India with his three matches in March yielding only 22 runs from two trips to the crease perhaps providing an early glimpse of his current struggles at the World Cup. 

It looks like Travis Head’s return at the top of the order won’t be delayed until Saturday’s clash with New Zealand so Smith could be shifted from his preferred No.3 slot for Wednesday’s encounter with the Netherlands. 

“We’re really optimistic he will be available,” coach Andrew McDonald said at his media conference when asked about Head on Monday. “It’s been really impressive the way he has gone about his recovery.

“We said at the start of the tournament there would be some risk associated with carrying an injured player, and some people didn’t think it would be possible. But he is on the ground now and it is possible, so that’s really exciting for us.”

His career record at first drop is far superior to his returns when batting lower in the order – 4556 runs at 52.6 with 11 tons and 24 half-centuries at No.3 compared with 1181 at 27.47 with just one century and six 50s.

But in the past two years since the pandemic put a dent in the international schedule, Smith has tallied 748 runs from 20 hits at No.3 at 44 with a solitary century against New Zealand in the dead rubber third match of the Cairns series last year.

Now that they’re back on an even keel at 2-2, the fourth-placed Aussies should qualify for the semis given they have the Dutch, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on their remaining schedule with the back-to-back clashes against the Black Caps and England to determine whether they can sneak up as high as second or drop out of the final four equation. 

India underlined their status as Cup favourites with their four-wicket win over New Zealand on Sunday night with Virat Kohli again playing the role of run-chase master to provide the backbone of their innings. 

Virat Kohli celebrates his century against Bangladesh. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images)

The host nation holds several advantages over this curiously constructed Australian line-up but Kohli’s reliability in the middle overs stands out as a massive one compared to Smith’s recent output. 

Throughout much of their careers, Smith and Kohli have had an ongoing rivalry for the world’s best batter title with only a few others like Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Babar Azam giving them a run for their money.

Smith holds the edge over Kohli in Test cricket but in one-dayers, India’s unofficial king reigns supreme. 

One of five players still in the side from Australia’s 2015 World Cup final triumph along with David Warner, Josh Hazlewood, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Starc, this will almost certainly be Smith’s last chance to add a second trophy in the 50-over arena. 

Whether he changes his stance again, shifts his guard to leg or comes up with another tweak to his technique, he needs to overcome his LBW flaw as this Australian side can’t afford any weak links at the business end of the tournament otherwise they’ll be simply making up the numbers.  

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