World number one batsman Steve Smith is confident a nagging back complaint won’t prevent him from playing the Boxing Day Test against India, while backing the MCG to host successive matches if Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak forces a third Test venue change.
- Smith says he believes his back issue will not prevent him from playing in Melbourne
- He said players hoped the SCG Test went ahead, but he backed the MCG to host two successive matches if needed
- Smith has scored four centuries and three fifties in seven Test matches at the MCG since 2010
The former captain was hampered by the injury in the build-up to the first Test in Adelaide, which Australia won by eight wickets, and failed to have his usual impact with the bat.
Smith made just one run from 29 balls before nicking Ravichandran Ashwin in the hosts’ first innings and finished unbeaten on one in the second dig.
Smith admitted he initially feared he would miss the series opener when he was forced to withdraw from a nets session two days prior.
But four days out from the Boxing Day showpiece, Smith declared the back issue was manageable.
“It’s still a bit stiff but it didn’t hamper me too much throughout the [first Test],” he said, adding he put his dismissal down to Ashwin’s good bowling.
“It’s just something I need to manage whenever it goes and I probably haven’t had an episode since 2014, I think it was, so hopefully they can continue to be six years apart if they come.
“If I’m moving around and laying down I’m good.
“If I sit around for too long it’s not great for it, but I’m not worried about it.
Players hopeful third Test won’t be moved
Sydney’s growing northern beaches COVID-19 cluster has presented significant logistical challenges for cricket authorities hoping to hold consecutive Tests in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Cricket Australia’s preference is to keep the third Test, slated to begin on January 7, at the SCG.
But the clock is ticking on a decision on whether to hold the Test in Sydney with Queensland to remain closed to Sydney until at least January 8.
The third Test will end on January 11 if it runs to a fifth day, while the fourth Test, in Brisbane, is scheduled to begin on January 15.
A change of venue for the third Test could see the Border-Gavaskar series remain in Melbourne after the upcoming Boxing Day showpiece, while an early move to the Gabba in Brisbane for the third and fourth Tests is also feasible.
The SCG and Gabba could potentially swap hosting rights for the third and fourth Tests, with travel allowed from Queensland to Sydney.
Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley has made it clear the governing body will not be rushed into making a decision.
Smith said he and his teammates “would love Sydney to happen”.
“I’m sure they’ll give it every chance,” he said.
“But I just go where I’m told and do what I need to do, and that’s the mentality of the rest of the boys as well.
MCG capable of holding successive Tests
The MCG has produced a series of below-par decks in recent years.
The MCG pitch was rated “average” by the match referee after India’s most recent visit in 2018, one year after reaching a low point when it was rated “poor” after a drawn Ashes Test.
A Sheffield Shield match at the MCG was abandoned because of a dangerous pitch last December, but the trans-Tasman Test later that month went off without a hitch.
If Melbourne is required to host successive Test matches, Smith feels the MCG is capable of producing two decent wickets in a short space of time.
“Last year’s [Test] wicket was probably as even between bat and ball as we’ve played on for some time,” Smith said.
“I thought it was a pretty good wicket and we’ll wait and see what’s prepared this year.
“Then if something was to happen and they needed us to play there again, I’m sure they’d be able to come up with some kind of solution.
Smith looking to add to imposing MCG record
Smith has made a habit of destroying opponents at the MCG, with four centuries — three of them unbeaten — and three fifties in seven Test matches dating back to 2010.
His Test average of 113.50 in Melbourne is higher than at any other ground where he has played more than once.
By comparison, his next best average on home soil is 67.88 at the SCG.
“I like batting at the MCG and [on] those big occasions,” Smith said.
“I like to try and make the most of them and help the team out.
“There’s nothing like the thrill and you get the shivers down your spine when you walk out to bat on Boxing Day with the crowd yelling, and it’s like a dream come true in a way.