England cricket fans react to Steve Smith’s new role for Australia as they look ahead to the next Ashes series

Former England international Mark Butcher branded the decision to promote Steve Smith to the top of Australia’s batting order “risky business” as voices in the UK grappled with the shock news.

Smith was confirmed as retired Test opener David Warner’s replacement on Wednesday and won’t need long to see how he fares as the Aussies take on the West Indies in a two-match Test series.

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The 34-year-old’s shift to an opening role also opened up a spot for Cameron Green to slot back into the order at No. 4, a position he has batted at for Western Australia but not at Test level.

Butcher, who made 71 Test appearances for England, believes the decision to hand Smith the opening role alongside Usman Khawaja could be the jolt his career needs.

However, he felt a big question mark surrounding Green’s credentials remains.

“This (Smith) is a legend of a player with a huge amount of Test match runs and experience behind him,” Butcher told Wisden Cricket Weekly.

“On a positive note from his side, perhaps he’s talked about it as well, the edge has gone out of him a little bit in terms of run scoring and he wanted another challenge.

“This is a chance to reinvent himself in what is a very difficult position at the top of the order. That’s the positive side from it.

“The negative side is not just because Steve Smith has not batted at the top order for five or six years with any regularity, but it’s also about how you fill the gap with the runs he made at No. 4.

“We had this conversation going back years and years about Joe Root moving from No. 3 to No. 4. I’ve always said, ‘Well, that’s fine and I don’t see massive issue with that, but who bats at four and scores the runs he makes at No. 4?’

“Australia, picking Cam Green, who has an enormous amount of talent but hasn’t really proven it at Test level yet with bat or with ball, they’re putting an enormous amount of hope that he will score the mountain of runs, the important runs, the tough runs for Australia that Steve Smith has done for so many years batting at four.

“You try to cover over something that’s missing by taking away from what is an absolute strength.

“It’s a risky business, doing that.”

Butcher also pointed out the dreaded scenario of Smith struggling at the top of the order.

“Then they have to think about rebalancing and rejigging the whole set-up having really upset people like Cameron Bancroft who averaged 50 in first class cricket for the last few years as a specialist opener,” Butcher said.

Smith is by no means struggling for runs, but he has gone from an average of 74.23 from eight Tests in 2019 to 42.22 from 13 Tests in 2023.

The former skipper’s dip in form was described by The Times’ Steve James as not indicative of “serious decline” but of “a player batting on autopilot, without a clear plan and aim”.

With an average that dropped considerably in recent years coupled with a new role, Smith could prove to be a lightning rod for criticism if things do not work out.

James called for those critics to be wary of firing Smith up, but also noted that the Australians had snubbed the example of Joe Root, who has long baulked at moving up the order.

“He has made a career out of proving critics wrong,” James wrote.

“So, beware writing him off in this new venture, but there has always been good reason why, someone like, say Joe Root — an opener as a youngster — has been so reluctant even to move up to No. 3, let alone open.”

If — and it’s a big if at this stage — this new lease of life works out for Smith, it will be extremely beneficial to the Australian Test team.

Unfortunately for England, a rejuvenated Smith would be the last thing they’d need ahead of the next Ashes series which will be held on Australian soil in late 2025.

“It will be compulsive viewing for every Australian or English spectator,” The Telegraph’s chief cricket writer Scyld Berry said.

“It will be repulsive viewing for England’s opening bowlers: Ollie Robinson, if he has got his game together, will not be especially friendly towards Smith, although he has played a few games for Sussex, and James Anderson, who will no doubt be still going until he is 56 and a half.

“It is a good move by Australia to move Smith to open, starting against West Indies this month.

“A typically astute move by their head coach Andrew McDonald, who listens, watches, makes no waves, talks heart-to-heart with – not to, or at – his players before making a move.”

Berry added: “McDonald must be envisaging Smith doing a job in the next Ashes series, hanging in as the opener if not going on himself, before Green marches out at 150 for two, the ball and England’s bowlers getting ever flatter.”

Two Test matches against the West Indies might not provide the greatest challenge to truly assess Smith’s qualities as an opener.

However, a stronger clash awaits as Australia heads to New Zealand for two Test fixtures in late February, which could provide a better indication of what Smith can do alongside Khawaja at the top.

Smith will undoubtedly be under plenty of scrutiny but if he emerges from these next four matches unscathed, rival nations will be fearful of Smith’s second coming.

Originally published as England cricket fans react strongly to Steve Smith move

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