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Cricket: Will Steve Smith open the batting in 2025-26 Ashes?

The recent two-Test series between Australia and West Indies saw Steve Smith step up to open the batting, following the recent retirement from the red-ball arena of long-term team-mate David Warner.

The switch-up was seen by some as a short-term measure to ensure that the best players were able to be accommodated in the middle-order, but Smith was clear that he would relish the opportunity to make his role a more permanent one.

A home Ashes series against England is on the schedule for late 2025 and into 2026, so could veteran Smith still be in place for that crucial series?

Australia are 1.66 to win that series outright, with a drawn series available at 6.00.

Cummins points to long-term plan

Many felt that Smith opening the batting was just a short-term measure, but Australia Test skipper Pat Cummins recently suggested that there was a much longer-term strategy at play, with making room for Cameron Green at four a key factor.

Cummins told reporters: "In terms of giving a long-term play, yeah, absolutely. Our intention isn't just to give him some Tests to see how it goes.

"We want to make sure it's a shift that's pretty much permanent and we want to give it a good crack."

Smith struggled to justify the faith in that plan as he made 12, 11 not out and 6 in his first three innings as a Test opener, but carrying his bat for an unbeaten 91 in the second innings of the lost Test at the Gabba has put the argument to bed for now.

However, there will always be question raised given that Smith averages 67.07 when batting at number three, 61.50 at four and 57.18 at five in the batting order.

He has to match those figures to remove any lingering doubts, even if his fledgling average as an opener currently stands at 60.

Are the best batters in place?

With Smith at the top pf the order alongside Usman Khawaja, the top six for the series against the Windies was completed by Marnus Labuschagne, Green, Travis Head and Mitch Marsh.

No total in excess of 300 was put on the board in the two-Test series and that raises two major questions, the first of which is, is the selection of two all-rounders in the top six really making sure that Australia have their best batters in place?

Marsh may have enjoyed some fine form in recent times, but scores of 5, 21 and 20 against the Windies did little to convince. The 32-year-old has 40 Tests under his belt, yet his average is just a touch in excess of 30.

That is not what you would expect from a top-six batter for Australia and, while Green’s average is a couple of points higher, he has failed to pass 50 in any of his last 11 Test innings and has made only one century in 26 Test appearances.

An Australia line-up with Smith back in place at four would surely pose a much greater barrier to an England bowling attack who will finally be shorn of the services of both Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

There is also an age factor to think of, with Smith 34 and Khawaja 37 and the Ashes action almost two years away down the road.

Other options for opening spot

Matt Renshaw was the reserve batter for the two Tests against the West Indies and the left-hander has played in 14 Tests to date, but has failed to make the sort of impact that would have made him a shoo-in to replace the retired Warner.

Another left-hander, Marcus Harris, has also played 14 Test for Australia, but his record is now quite as good as that of Renshaw, so he is also not making a compelling case to push Smith back down the order.

Then we come to Cameron Bancroft, who Cummins was clear in saying was still very much an option for future selection.

The thirty-one-year-old right-hander Bancroft is the leading scorer in the current Sheffield Shield season with 590 runs at 53.63, while he led the way during the 2022/23 season with a massive return of 945 runs to help Western Australia take the honours.

Should Bancroft continue to stack up those kinds of numbers, he will surely have to be considered for an international recall for the first time since August 2019.

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