Joe Root has told England to look past Steve Smith’s twitchiness at the crease and be ruthless with their plans as they look to nullify Australia’s premier batsman when the second Ashes Test begins at Lord’s on Wednesday.
Sitting 1-0 down and wary that no England team has come back from a two-match deficit in an Ashes series, Root’s players know Smith’s wicket is trial after his twin centuries at Edgbaston. The England captain, set to hand Jofra Archer his debut but still to decide if Sam Curran can also be squeezed into the XI with damp weather forecast, believes Smith’s fidgety style has perhaps contributed to past issues against him.
Root, stressing Smith must start on zero once more, said: “It’s something you’ve got to look past. A lot of what he does is try to put you off in a way, trying to make it look extremely different so you have to think way outside the box. You look at his dismissals over a period of time it’s not far away from everyone else’s – the movements before and after it might look slightly different but it’s just being really clear on how we want to go about it.
“When we go to a plan, we’ve got to be really ruthless with it and stick to it. [And also] to make sure if we’re not getting him out, we’re containing him and building pressure on him at the other end. I’m expecting a big response from the boys this time around.”
Analysts noted that Smith made 23 idiosyncratic movements between deliveries during the last Ashes – a series he dominated with three centuries with an average of 137 – and shuffles back and across before meeting the ball, but England at least have a fresh weapons with which to challenge the right-hander this week.
While the more all-round Curran appears to be competing with Joe Denly for his place – England would move batsmen up to make the switch – the latter could also be retained if the expected rain reduces the length of match and thus the need for their spinner, Jack Leach.
Archer is certain to play with the 24-year-old fast bowler having previously claimed that Smith avoided him in the nets while teammates at Rajasthan Royals. Root, without Jimmy Anderson after a calf injury, is keen to find out why.
Asked if the extra pace might unsettle Smith, Root replied: “It could, potentially. You try and use your whole armoury in different ways. I’m fully confident that the whole bowling group have got everything it takes to get every single one of their players out.”
On facing Archer, he said: “It’s not always pleasant. But it’s very exciting to stand at slip to and he’s very skilful young guy. He can swing the ball both ways. He’s got a good bouncer and bowls at good pace consistently. So I’m sure he’ll cause problems on most surfaces. And hopefully, he can exploit this one this time around.”
Just as Australia’s batting line-up is not solely about one man, nor should England’s attack rest on the shoulders of a debutant. Root was coy about which of Archer, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes would share the new ball but was happy to discuss the latter’s record at Lord’s, where he averages nine with the ball and 66 with the bat from four Tests.
Root said: “I don’t think you really need to remind Chris of his record here – every time you walk through the dressing room you see his name at the bottom of the honours board a few times, especially in the bowling column. It’s great when you’ve got guys coming back to venues where they’ve got really fond memories. It’s really powerful and feeds a lot of confidence through him and the rest of the guys.”
Australia have rested James Pattinson from the side that won at Edgbaston in a bid to keep their attack fresh. There are three days between the second and third Tests, with Josh Hazlewood expected to be preferred to Mitchell Starc as the initial replacement seamer.
For Tim Paine, who made his Test debut at Lord’s alongside Smith in 2010 before seven years in the wilderness, a 2-0 lead would put him within touching distance of a remarkable feat as Australia captain, having rebuilt the team in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal last year.
Paine said: “I’m rapped to be playing international cricket again and to have a second opportunity, to have the captaincy, is a great honour as well. It’s certainly one I didn’t want or expect but doing the job now, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”