Steve Smith at centre of bombshell retirement theory during fourth Test
Two cricket greats think the end could be nigh for Steve Smith's Australian Test career.
Serious doubts have been raised about the future of stand-in Australia captain Steve Smith, during the fourth Test against India in Ahmedabad. The 33-year-old was unable to go on with a promising start after falling victim to India spinner Ravindran Jadeja for 38 runs, on an opening day highlighted by Usman Khawaja's dazzling century.
Khawaja starred with an unbeaten 104 to help the tourists to 4-255 at stumps on day one in Ahmedabad, with the opener sharing in several partnerships with his teammates to put the visitors on track for their best total of the series so far. The classy left-hander's ton was his 14th in Test cricket and first in India, coming off 251 balls as batted through the entire first day in sweltering hot conditions.
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While the headlines were understandably around Australia's recently crowned Test player of the year, Smith also found himself at the centre of a bombshell retirement theory, with several former Australia greats questioning his future in the game. In the lead-up to the fourth Test, Smith made the stunning admission that he would most likely not still be playing when Australia next toured India in four years time.
“I can’t see myself coming back really, if I’m being realistic”, Smith said earlier in the week. The 33-year-old also revealed in January that he could give no guarantees he would still be around for the Test series during the next Aussie summer in 2023-24. Smith did preface that statement by saying he had “no plans” for retirement at this stage.
Speaking on Fox Sports during the coverage of the fourth Test, Aussie Test great Mark Waugh and Smith's former teammate Brad Haddin both admitted they wouldn't be surprised if Smith called time on his Test career earlier than expected. The pair pointed to the fact Smith has spoken about it on a number of occasions now, with Waugh suggesting an announcement could be imminent.
“It’s interesting, a few times Steve Smith has mentioned retirement on this Tour down the line. It wouldn’t surprise me if he just overnight gives up,” Waugh said on Fox Cricket.
“I’m with you Junior. He also said it during the Australian summer,” Haddin replied. “He said it a few times, like, ‘Oh, I probably haven’t got as many games as people think left in me’. He mentioned it again before this Test match. Worrying signs.”
There has also been plenty of speculation around the future of batter David Warner, who returned to Australia with injury after the second Test. Warner has made it clear he wants to play in the Ashes series in England later in the year, but his mediocre form has given selectors a big decision to make. Waugh admits when Warner and Smith do retire from the Test team, it will be a huge hole for Australia to fill, in terms of both batting talent, experience and leadership.
“It would be (big shoes) if they both went at the same time and it looks at the moment they’re not going to be too far apart,” Waugh added. “Steve Smith’s already said it, so it’s not like I’m making something up. I hope he doesn’t. He’s still a great player and he’s got years in front of him. But at the end of the day, he’s a quirky character.”
Usman Khawaja puts Aussies on top on day one
Australia got off to a bright start in the fourth Test after opting to bat first, with Khawaja and Travis Head (32) putting on their best opening partnership of the series, after scoring 61 runs without loss. That was until the aggressive Head, who was promoted to open when Warner left the tour mid-series due to a broken elbow, went for one big shot too many and was caught at mid-on from the bowling of star India spinner Ravi Ashwin (1-57).
Marnus Labuschange's disappointing debut Test tour of India continued when the world's No.1-ranked batter was bowled, chopping on to seamer Mohammed Shami for three. It was an impressive second spell from Shami (2-65), who bowled a stunning wide with the first ball of the match in scenes reminiscent of England quick Steve Harmison spraying the opening delivery of the 2006-07 Ashes.
The tourists went to tea at 2-149, as Khawaja and acting captain Steve Smith (38) became the first pair from either team to bat through an entire session during this series. But Smith (38) and Peter Handscomb (17) departed in quick succession after tea, giving India some hope of running through Australia in front of a big home crowd.
Allrounder Cameron Green (49 no) helped lift Australia's run-rate with some outstanding, free-flowing batting in the last session. However, the opening day was highlighted by Khawaja's superb knock as he once again dispelled any notion from critics that spin bowling is his Achilles' heel.
"I don't think I've ever smiled so much on getting a century, there was emotion in it. I've done two tours of India before, carried the drinks for eight Test matches before I got a chance here," Khawaja said. "Throughout the middle of my career I got told I couldn't play spin and that's why I never got an opportunity to play in India."
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