Steve Smith will be a Test opener for as long as he makes runs

Australian selection chief George Bailey has pushed back hard on the idea a “specialist opener” was required to replace David Warner in the Test team suggesting the label was irrelevant after Steve Smith’s bold request to move up the order was granted.

Significant pushback against the plan to move 34-year-old Smith from his position at number four from some of the leading names in the game centred around a desire to bring in someone with significant experience going to bat first.

Even current opener Usman Khawaja, who Smith will partner in the first Test against the West Indies in Adelaide next week called it a “specialist position” when he was asked about who should replace Warner, although it came with a caveat.

“But anyone who can bat in the top four can open,” he said.

Khawaja himself began his Test career at number three before moving to open and in defending potentially the boldest move of his selection career, Bailey suggested “over 50 per cent” of the recent Australian openers were anything but specialists.

“It’s an interesting one, because I feel like over the last couple of weeks I’ve heard the line specialist opener more than I’ve ever heard in my life,” Bailey said.

“And I think if you go back historically, and look at the last 30, 35 Australian openers. I reckon over 50 per of them actually weren’t openers, didn’t start as openers.

“So I don’t know what comes first, the specialist bit or the opportunity to perform. It probably says to me that your best batters are generally your best batters and the best problem solvers and then technically most proficient as well and they find a way to adapt, but I think ultimately, the results will be the judge of that.

“The opportunity will decide whether we end up talking about Steve Smith as someone who has the admiration and respect as some of those former Australian openers who we look upon as openers and can’t remember betting anywhere else.”

Shane Watson sits among the list of middle-order batters turned into openers in recent times, and Smith was chatting to his former teammates in the nets during the recent Sydney Test, during which the idea of the move first materialised.

Smith will become the first Australian batter with more than 10,000 first class runs to open the batting in a first class match for the first time, having filled the role in T20s for both the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash and the national side as recently as last November in India.

Bailey was at pains to point out the move was, for now, just for the two Tests against the West Indies, in keeping with the panel’s one-match-at-a-time view of selection.

But given Smith’s keen desire to make the change, the potential for success against what is an inexperienced West Indies bowling line-up could make it a long-term solution.

Smith could even finish his career in the role.

“Steve is obviously motivated and energised and keen to do it,” Bailey said.

“There were plenty within the team who were pretty keen to go on record and say that they weren’t keen to do it. So it was refreshing that Steve had come forward and said he wanted.

“It’s something that he’s motivated to do and feels like he can do this, I guess for someone who has achieved as much as he has over such a long period of time across all formats. It’s a challenge or an itch that he’d like to scratch. And ultimately, it’s for us as a team. It’s something that fits and it’s I guess, from that point of view, it’s selfless that clearly he wants to do it.

“He’s keen for this to be a significant chapter in his career. As far as the panel goes, and I think we’ve been pretty consistent in saying that we don’t look too far ahead. “We’ve obviously got these two Test matches against the West Indies. We go to New Zealand: different conditions, different challenge. We’ll have more information then.

“We’ve clearly got a big gap of Test cricket then and then India over the summer, but for all intents and purposes, this is where Steve wants to stay.”

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