Steve Smith is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to his preparations for this year's hotly anticipated Ashes series in England, with the Aussie Test star set for a stunning career first ahead of the five-Test series. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Smith is in “advanced negotiations” to sign with English side Sussex, in what would be his first foray into county cricket in England.
Over the years, many Aussie batters have used English county cricket to hone their skills in the longest format of the game, however, it's a move that Smith has not yet made in his illustrious career. The report states that Smith has been talking with several county sides in England, but appears the most likely to join Sussex, who boast England fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Ollie Robinson.
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Archer celebrated his return to cricket in style this week after claiming three wickets in four overs while playing in the South African T20 league. His spell left Test captain Ben Stokes 'buzzing' as preparations begin for the Ashes series later this year.
Smith and the Aussies have a four-Test series away to India beginning next month, before they head over to England for the Ashes in the Northern Hemisphere summer. The first Test of the five-match series is set to get underway on June 16.
The Aussies - currently ranked No.1 in the ICC Test rankings - have not won an Ashes series on English soil since 2001, despite retaining the urn after drawing the 2019 series in England. Smith told The Herald he could probably fit “three or four” county games in before having to link up with the Australian Test side and a likely appearance in June's Test Championship final.
Smith is yet to reach an agreement with any English county side and while his inclusion would certainly be a boost for the competition and his own preparations leading into the Ashes, England captain Ben Stokes is not exactly thrilled by the prospect.
“I guess it’s good for the county game to see players of Steve's calibre want to come over and play,” Stokes told reporters in December. "But I don’t know. I think it’s one of those where you’d probably prefer them not to get any game time out here before the Ashes.
“But at the same time, it is what it is.”
This year's Ashes series is one of the most hotly anticipated in recent memory, with Australia sitting at the top of the Test world rankings and England currently third. Under Stokes and new coach Brendon McCullum, the Poms are playing an exciting brand of Test cricket affectionately known as 'BazBall', which places an emphasis on aggressive tactics and quick run-scoring that allows the bowlers enough time to take the 20 wickets necessary to win matches.
The 'Bazball' approach was typified during England's recent Test series in Pakistan, where Stokes' men completed a 3-0 series sweep. It was the first home whitewash suffered by Pakistan in their Test history.
Australia has been in supreme form during the summer of cricket Down Under, with convincing series wins against the West Indies and South Africa. Smith and the Aussies know that bigger tests await on their upcoming tours of India and England later in the year.
Steve Smith set for Big Bash cameo after Test heroics
Smith is among nine members of the Test team that played against South Africa who are making cameos in the Big Bash League (BBL) before the Australian team heads to India. The Aussie vice-captain make his long-awaited return to the Sixers on Sunday evening, in one of four games he'll play in the BBL, before the finals series gets underway.
Australia leaves for India on January 31, leaving just enough time for a potential finals appearance in the BBL for Smith depending on how the Sixers fare in the competition. Smith was confident the BBL stints wouldn't affect the Aussie side, which has already weathered injuries to Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cameron Green earlier in the summer.
Smith sent a shock through the cricket world after admitting during the South Africa Test series that he's not sure how long he has left at the top of the sport. However, the 33-year-old says he has no plans to retire anytime soon, and predicted the BBL would be a natural transition for him when his Test career does eventually end.
“It’s a lot easier on the mind and body (T20 cricket). Certainly, something I’ll be looking at potentially when I finish up,” Smith said. "But I’ve still got a lot of cricket left in me. I’m not going anywhere for the time being, I’m really excited by what’s coming up and I feel like I am in a good place.”
Smith said he was looking forward to getting back into the shortest format of the game after a three-year absence from the BBL. The competition has long faced criticism for not featuring Australia's marquee talents, who are usually unavailable for all or part of the tournament because of commitments with the Test side.
To entice the superstar batters into spending precious weeks off playing in the BBL, Cricket Australia (CA) had to supplement their salaries with money from their marketing budget, so as to come closer to the wages they could command playing in overseas T20 leagues. Smith admitted he was unsure how to draw the best talent to the BBL, but said money would inevitably be a factor.
"I don't know the exact answer, but that's the key, being able to get the best players in Australia and overseas players to be a part of our league," he said. "I think (money) does at times certainly talk, and the length of (the tournament) certainly talks."
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