Mark Taylor calls out Steve Smith's act of 'desperation' in second Test
The cricket great says the questionable moment reeked of desperation from Steve Smith.
Cricket legend Mark Taylor has reserved special criticism for Steve Smith after Australia's humiliating second Test defeat to India in Delhi. The Aussies have come under fire after a shocking collapse on day three saw them go from 1-65 to be all out for 114 in 60 minutes of madness that handed the match - and the series - to the home side.
Aussie greats such as former Test captain Allan Border, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey have all slammed Australia's tactics against the lethal spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja (7 wickets) and Ravi Ashwin (3 wickets), who accounted for every Aussie batter in the disastrous second innings. Six of Australia's 10 dismissals in that capitulation came via the sweep shot as they lost 9-48 to meekly surrender their advantage to India.
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Taylor says he was particularly concerned with the innings of Smith - long considered to be the best Aussie batter of his generation. The talented right-hander followed a duck in the first innings with nine in the second, captured LBW by Ashwin after attempting an uncharacteristic sweep shot off the Indian spinner.
"The dismissal that shocked me the most was Steve Smith playing that sweep shot because it's not a shot he plays often. That looked a shot of desperation to me," Taylor told 2GB's Wide World of Sports Radio. "I would be saying to our batters, 'Just get back to basics. Get back to a simple plan that you think is going to work when the ball starts to turn and see how that goes'."
Smith was by no means alone, with Renshaw also out lbw after missing an attempted sweep, while Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Matthew Kuhnemann had their stumps destroyed while playing the same shot. Carey and Kuhnemann attempted reverse sweeps, but missed the ball and were clean-bowled.
When asked after the match about Australia's tactic to sweep, Jadeja's response was telling. The Indian star was asked if the sweep shot was a good choice, responding with a laugh: "Not on this pitch."
Jadeja also revealed that his game plan was simply to bowl at the stumps and hope Australia missed. "My plan was to try and keep bowling into the stumps, and if they make mistakes, I have a chance to get them out," he said.
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Taylor said it was clear to him that Australia's blind stubbornness to play the sweep shot - even when wickets were falling all around them - was a sign that they'd run of ideas about how to combat India'a lethal spin twins. He said when that game plan went out the door, Australia's batters should have taken it upon themselves to figure out other strategies against Jadeja and Ashwin.
The former Aussie captain also argued that while the sweep wasn't a smart strategy against India on the turning Delhi wicket, it was also obvious to him that many of the tourist's batsmen were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the shot as well. Taylor suggested that essentially learning on the fly in India was always going to be fraught with danger.
"I have to question whether a lot of Australia's top order have actually worked on the shot before they went over there, and I reckon the answer would be 'no'," Taylor added. " I think what they've done is change their plan to play the sweep shots because they felt the old plan of playing straight hasn't worked.
" It's a shot you've got to practise and a shot you've got to be good at, and I'm not sure a lot of our guys are good at it. I think they're playing it because they feel like they've got to play it. It's the only way they feel they can score against Ashwin and Jadeja, and at the moment they're losing the battle."
Hayden famously found success in India while employing the sweep shot, but derided the fact that Australia's batters seemed to make up their mind to sweep every ball. “What we’ve seen here is a disaster for Australia. It’s a disaster because they’ve gone way over the edge in terms of their aggressive play," he said.
“What professional in life just hopes? No way. You’ve got to have a method and you have to think on your feet. You’ve got about 13 people in that dug out not playing the game all having their say on it.”
Aussie great Mike Hussey said it's time to put the sweep shot away. “It’s a low percentage shot, particularly early in your innings when you’re not used to the pace," he said.
“It obviously didn’t work … I think the Australians, they need to have some accountability for that performance and some of their shots. They need to come out and own it, and go: ‘You know what? We stuffed up here. That was pretty ordinary batting’. And own it. It’s okay to make mistakes but they’ve got to try and learn from it.”
Jadeja now has a staggering record of 80 wickets in 14 Tests against Australia at an average of 17.23, while 103 of Ashwin's 463 Test wickets have come in 20 matches against the Aussies. India's victory in Delhi saw them take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match Border-Gavaskar series, with the third Test getting underway at Indore's Holkar Cricket Stadium on March 1.
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