Steve Smith is likely to bat at No 3 for the start of an ODI series for Australia for the first time since 2018. Smith will return to the crucial position of first drop for the three matches against India, having batted at No 4 for the majority last year’s World Cup, as Aaron Finch’s team begin the road towards cricket’s showpiece event in 2023.
Australia’s five-month gap between ODIs ends on Tuesday when they take on India in Mumbai, marking the side’s first match in the next World Cup cycle. During his side’s run to the semi-finals in the UK, Smith walked to bat out after Usman Khawaja as the Aussies tried to fit David Warner, Aaron Finch and Khawaja into the same team for all but two matches.
But there is little doubt Smith plays his best cricket for Australia at No 3, where he averages 52.72 in one-day cricket as opposed to 35.61 at No 4. Crucially, he also faces an extra 20 balls per game there, allowing him to control Australia’s innings before upping the ante as the game goes on.
“There is a fair chance Steve Smith will bat No.3,” interim coach Andrew McDonald said. “The top three fall into Warner, Finch and Smith. And then the conversations start about how we will go through the middle and what balance team we want to play.”
It means Marnus Labuschagne won’t bat No 3 as he has in Test cricket this summer, and will play in the middle order if he debuts in Mumbai. Realistically, he, Peter Handscomb, Ashton Turner and Ashton Agar are fighting over three spots, depending on if Australia opt for an extra bat or additional allrounder.
Handscomb is a known player of spin, while Turner had success in India last year and Agar’s tweakers will likely prove handy. Labuschagne meanwhile is arguably the form player in the world, with D’Arcy Short the other option on the tour. All will be young enough to play in the next World Cup, which will held in India.
Aiding McDonald’s balance is Alex Carey who could move up to No 6, or stay at No 7 where he had the best World Cup in history by a lower-order batsman. “We’ve got Marnus who can bowl, we’ve got D’Arcy Short was can also bowl. And Ashton Turner also can give us some overs as well,” McDonald said. “The first selection is always the hardest, particularly in a three-match series. It’s a short series, the batters you pick first up you would be hoping they can get through the three games.”