Aussie selectors face momentous call on whether to stick with batting experiment as Smith and Green fail again
The Australian selectors were adamant they had selected the best six batters in the country when they controversially recalled Cameron Green and switched Steve Smith to opener.
But the experiment is off to a woeful start after both players failed for the second straight Test as the West Indies reduced Australia to rubble in the opening session of day two at the Gabba.
Smith was trapped in front for six in the first over, Marnus Labuschagne went for three before Green (six) surrendered his wicket with a soft shot and Travis Head snicked a wide delivery down leg side first ball for Australia to be in deep strife at 4-24 in reply to the Windies’ 311.
Australia are staring down the barrel of their first home Test defeat in three years against the understrength Windies, who have not been victorious in this country for more than a quarter of a century.
For all the talk of Smith wanting to go to the top of the order, all evidence thus far is that he looks like a fish out of water.
He made just 14 in Adelaide in his opening foray before he nicked off to a ball that a specialist would have left alone.
This time around he started confidently with a pull shot from the opening delivery of the innings and a sublime on-drive to the boundary.
However, as he’s done several times in recent years as his reflexes appear to have faded, he produced his trademark shuffle across the stumps to whip the ball through mid wicket but missed it completely.
How umpire Nitin Menon gave it not out is knowledge only he possesses but Kemal Roach immediately gestures to captain Kraigg Brathwaite for a video review and the footage confirmed Smith was stone cold gone.
Australia’s current selectors are renowned for sticking with established players even when form drops off, as evidenced by their continued faith in the now-retired player that Smith has replaced at the top of the order in David Warner.
But unless Smith and Green strike form in the second innings, the Australians could not only be losing this Test but headed for trouble on their upcoming tour of New Zealand and next summer’s home showdown with India.
Green has dominated at first-class level batting at four but after coming in no higher than six in his first three years in the Test team, he has been elevated to his preferred spot with the lure of making it his long-term spot.
But after nicking off early in Adelaide last week for just 14, he again went cheaply at a time when his team needed him to occupy the crease following two quick wickets.
He played a nothing shot to a half-volley on off stump straight to mid-off and Roach could not believe his luck.
Green has the ability to be a devastating all-rounder for Australia but apart from a ton last year on a benign pitch in India, he has not been able to translate that immense potential into consistent meaningful contributions with the bat.
The selectors had three specialist openers who they could have chosen to replace Warner.
Cameron Bancroft, known as “Bangers”, was banging down the door by topping the Sheffield Shield run-scorers last summer and this one too but that was apparently not enough.
Will the selectors concede they have made the wrong call and return Smith to the middle order and bring Bancroft, Matt Renshaw or Marcus Harris in?
Unlikely. But they need to be sure they’re not being stubborn by refusing to consider they got the initial call wrong.
Smith and Green could come good soon or it could be a long way down the track.
But if the top order continues to falter like this against the team ranked eighth in the world, it is unlikely they will suddenly start firing against the best bowling attacks.