Australia opener Steve Smith.
Steve Smith has so far struggled to impose himself as a Test opener for Australia. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS
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Smith will get time as Australia Test opener: McDonald

Ben McKay March 12, 2024

It’s eight months until their next Test match but the Australian side appears already settled, with team leaders closing ranks around the XI.

That will mean an extended run for Steve Smith as opener, and security of tenure for Alex Carey after his superb 98 not out as the tourists won the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch.

Australia coach Andrew McDonald has backed in the team that pulled a rabbit out of the hat at Hagley Oval, rebounding from 4-34 to chase the winning target of 279.

While not blind to the team’s shortcomings, McDonald said the “incredible achievement” deserved recognition.

The side has been on a mighty nine-month slog, starting with the World Test Championship final in London and followed by the Ashes, the one-day international World Cup, a home summer and the tour of New Zealand. 

Australia cricket coach Andrew McDonald.
 Australia’s current Test team will “be a hard group to infiltrate”, coach Andrew McDonald says. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

“We talked about this game being a game to reward ourselves on the journey that we’ve been on,” he said.

“Four for 34 – not ideal – and we’ve probably found ourselves in those situations a little bit too often.

“But the real positive is that we’re able to work our way through that and find a way to win.”

The Australians celebrated richly on Monday night before going their separate ways; some staying in New Zealand with family, others heading home.

Most of the squad will regroup ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup in June, but the Test specialists don’t have a match until India arrive in November.

The summer’s results, including a tied series against West Indies and a near-miss in New Zealand, have drawn criticism: much centred on Smith’s suitability as an opener.

McDonald said it was too early to judge the 34-year-old.

“He is a great player and his ability to problem-solve is one of his great strengths. He’s been challenged in these conditions,” he said.

“He’s up for the challenge. Anytime that Steve Smith fails, he sees it as a greater challenge.

“Walking away here with 51 runs (from four innings) in tough conditions, that’ll no doubt drive him to the next challenge.

“That next challenge is India (and) it will be an internal motivator for him. He wants to open … we think he can make it work.”

While stressing he wasn’t picking the Test team this week, McDonald’s support was plain. 

“We feel we’ve got a group that can carry us through that next phase. That’s not to say there won’t be changes,” he said.

“It’s going to be a hard group to infiltrate. It’s going to take something special.”

Mitch Marsh.
 After a successful tour of New Zealand, Mitch Marsh will captain Australia at the T20 World Cup. Image by Marty Melville/AAP PHOTOS 

Captain Pat Cummins expressed similar sentiments on Monday after hitting the winning runs at Hagley Oval.

“In those key moments, being able to draw on that knowledge, guys that have played all around the world – it’s valuable,” he said.

“We’re in no rush to make rash changes.”

McDonald said Mitch Marsh – who led Australia to a 3-0 T20 New Zealand series win preceding the Tests – would captain at the World Cup.

“All roads will lead to Mitch, I’ve just got to get that ticked off,” he said.

“We’re happy and comfortable with the way he’s been able to operate with that T20 team.”