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Steve Smith's Test batting move offers major clue after cricket retirement talk

The superstar batter found himself at the centre of persistent retirement speculation in 2023.

Steve Smith has been handed a new challenge after being named David Warner's replacement at opener for the Aussie Test side. Pic: Getty
Steve Smith has been handed a new challenge after being named David Warner's replacement at opener for the Aussie Test side. Pic: Getty

Australia's chief cricket selector George Bailey has suggested Steve Smith's elevation to Test opener could help prolong the veteran batter's red-ball career, in the wake of persistent retirement rumours in 2023. Aussie selectors named their newest Test squad on Wednesday for the upcoming two-match series against the West Indies, with Smith entrusted the job of replacing recently retired David Warner at the top of the batting order.

All-rounder Cameron Green was reinstated to the starting XI and is set to take Smith's regular spot at No.4, having been dropped for the in-form Mitch Marsh during last year's Ashes series. Matthew Renshaw was also named as the back-up batter in the 13-man squad, with the likes of Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris both overlooked as potentially replacements for Warner.

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Much of the debate around the cricket world has centred on who would partner Usman Khawaja at the top of the batting order for Australia, with Smith rocketing into the box seat after declaring his intention to take up a new challenge. It comes after Smith found himself at the centre of numerous reports in 2023 that he could be set to retire from Test cricket after this Australian summer - a proposition the 34-year-old's manager shot down in December. It came after England captain Michael Vaughan sent the rumour mill into overdrive during the Ashes series.

Seen here, Aussie cricket star Steve Smith.
Steve Smith found himself at the centre of retirement speculation in 2023. Pic: Getty

Nevertheless, there is a sense that Smith - regarded by some as Australia's best batter since Donald Bradman - was in need of a new challenge after failing to reach his normally lofty heights with the bat in 2023. Smith's average for the year dropped to 42.23 after 13 Test matches for Australia, which is considerably down on his career average of 58.01.

Smith has nevertheless been solid batting at No.4 for Australia in recent years without being his usual prolific self, but Bailey admitted that the elevation to opener could help prolong his red-ball career. "Steve has spoken on a number of occasions about almost a series-to-series sentiment of how he's feeling about Test cricket," Bailey told reporters on Wednesday.

"One of the things I'm really excited about with the change is I think he's really motivated and energised and excited about this new opportunity. Fingers crossed that that can provide some longevity for him in the format as well. It's selfless that someone who's had such success in the middle order, is open, willing and hungry to go and have a crack at something new. It's a challenge or an itch that he'd like to scratch."

Smith's imminent shift to opener for the Windies series comes despite concerns from Khawaja and skipper Pat Cummins that it could potentially disrupt Australia's batting order. The move also allows Aussie selectors to bring Green back into the starting XI after his place was taken by Marsh, who has taken the opportunity with a series of big scores on the Test arena.

Selectors keen on bringing Cameron Green back into starting XI

Green has long been considered a generational talent by most at Cricket Australia and should be comfortable taking up the No.4 role that he occupies for Western Australia at Sheffield Shield level, where the 24-year-old averages more than 50. "We feel like we have someone pretty talented, who potentially was going to find it hard to get any Test cricket in the next 12 months," Bailey said about Green's recall.

"I don't think that's going to be particularly beneficial for Greeny. We can get a lot of benefits out of him playing. (We've been) working through some of the solutions to that and how he could potentially slot in and where that could be.

"One of the options we flagged was whether Cameron could slot in at the top. I think he could to be honest, I think he's technically capable of doing that. But as a younger guy, who's potentially going to bowl some overs as well ... I think (No.4) is the ideal spot for him to set him up for success."

The other major stories coming out of Wednesday's squad announcement were the omissions of Bancroft - the leading run-scorer in the last two seasons of the Sheffield Shield - and Harris, who was picked by Warner as his ideal replacement. Renshaw's selection sees him usurp Harris as the squad's back-up batter, with the Queenslander now next in line for looming vacancies in the coming years.

with AAP

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