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Cricket: Will Australia stick with Steve Smith as opener?

Steve Smith has recently been utilised as an opening batter in the Australia Test side, but the experiment has not proved to be a huge success and there are still many who wonder whether he really is the answer at the top of the order.

The retirement of David Warner from the red-ball international arena left some big boots to fill alongside Usman Khawaja, with Smith accepting the challenge to step up and allow Cameron Green to show what he can do at number four.

The Baggy Greens do not have any Test cricket between now and December, when they face a blockbuster home series against India, so the big question is will Smith still be the opener option come that massive challenge.

Smith yet to shine as an opener

Not only has Smith yet to prove to both himself and the selectors that he is a shoo-in as an opener, but it has to be remembered that he is closing in on his 35th birthday.

Therefore, can he really be seen as a long-term prospect as an opener, or indeed as Test batter anywhere in the order?

The real issue will come if he continues to struggle as an opener and a change has to be made, as should Green continue to impress than just where does Smith fit back into the top six?

So far Smith has opened in four Tests and scored 171 runs at an average of 28.50, but that record is heavily skewed by 91 not out in the second Test against West Indies, with his other seven knocks producing just one score in excess of 12.

Not only is that poor for an opener, but is almost unarguable that Smith would perform better in his regular number four slot, where he has been one of the standout batters of his generation.

Batting order looks imbalanced

The current line-up is Smith, Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Green, Travis Head and Mitch Marsh as the top six in the batting order and no more respected former captain than Ian Chappell has recently made his feelings clear on the line-up.

Chappell is of the opinion that the trio of Green, Head and Marsh are all very attacking players and that leaves little prospect of Australia battling their way out of trouble if early wickets fall.

He recently told Cricinfo: "An Australian order with Smith at No.4 has the solid look that provides confidence that things will still be okay even if they go astray at the top.

"What Australia have now is an unbalanced batting line-up. They are left with a query at the top and an overabundance of aggression in the middle order."

It is hard to disagree with Chappell, with the position of opening batter still being a unique role in Tests, even if white-ball cricket has eroded that standing in the shorter forms of the game.

The proof will be in the pudding, but an Indian pace attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami will surely relish the prospect of getting at Smith with a brand-new red cherry at the end of the year.

Other options are available

Matt Renshaw is the current reserve batter for Australia, while Marcus Harris would be another option at the top of the order, but Cameron Bancroft appears to be the outstanding candidate to step in if the Smith experiment fails to pay off.

Bancroft was the second highest runscorer in the Sheffield Shield this season with 778 runs at 48.62, although a concussion forced him to miss the Shield final, as Western Australia swept aside Tasmania.

That is on top of last season, when he while he led the way with a massive return of 945 runs to help WA be crowned champions for the second year in a row.

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