Michael Clarke says Australia made a mistake by leaving Steve Smith out for the T20 World Cup, arguing his selection should have been a no-brainer.
Smith is one of the best batsmen of his generation but wasn’t picked in Australia’s first-choice XI for last year’s T20 World Cup on home soil.
Power hitter Tim David was effectively chosen ahead of Smith in the middle order, relegating the 33-year-old to water boy and substitute fielder status during the tournament, in which he only played one match against Afghanistan.
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Defending the T20 World Cup, Australia’s performance was underwhelming to say the least as the hosts were thrashed by New Zealand in the tournament opener and failed to make the semifinals.
Smith’s absence from Australia’s T20 XI has come under intense scrutiny in light of his scintillating form for the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash League.
Since returning to the Sixers, Smith has struck back-to-back centuries and scored 36, 101, 125 not out and 66 from his four games.
He sits eighth on the run scoring list with 328 runs at an average of 109.33 and strike rate of 180.21. He has also plundered 24 sixes, six more than the next best in Matt Short and Tim David, both who have played 13 matches.
The cricket world has looked on in awe at Smith in his recent feats and have no doubt he should be back in the Aussie T20 side.
Speaking on Sky Sports Radio’s Big Breakfast, Clarke said Smith is one of the few players good enough to play for Australia all three formats and he should have been picked for the T20 World Cup.
“There’s a big difference between international cricket and what he’s playing now, but still the truth is he’s our best player certainly in Test and ODI cricket in Australia, and if given the chance he’s as good as our best in T20,” Clarke said.
“If we’re saying David Warner is our best T20 player then Steve Smith’s not far behind if he’s given the chance.”
Smith has been opening the batting for the Sixers and Clarke believes the Aussies should have made the tough call to demote skipper Aaron Finch down the order and pick Smith as an opener.
The former Australian captain also said the decision to have Cameron Green open the batting in warm-up games instead of Finch but then barely selecting the all-rounder during the World Cup was puzzling.
“Opening the batting is where you want to bat in that format,” Clarke said.
“Selectors made the decision to go with Finchy at the top of the order.
“The part that was hard for me to understand was why when Steve Smith was in our World Cup squad, Cameron Green wasn’t in the lead up games.
“Yet they were opening the batting with Cameron Green and Steve Smith wasn’t playing. That made no sense to me whatsoever.
“Smithy’s still an unbelievable player and he’s good enough to play for Australia in all three formats in the right role.
“In a World Cup maximum pressure against the best attacks, you need your best players.
“So if Finchy was happy to bat at number four, I’m opening the batting with Steve Smith, if Finchy is out of form and not scoring runs then Smith can replace him as the opener.”
Clarke said Smith’s recent form for the Sixers is evidence enough that the selectors made the wrong call.
“Australia got smoked in the T20 World Cup, they leave out Steve Smith, now he gets a chance to play T20 and he’s belting them,” Clarke said.
“Of course there’s going to be criticism.
“I believe Smithy still would’ve dominated. I said on this show if he opens the batting in the World Cup he’ll be the leading run scorer.
“I understand their reasons, they went with Finchy so they had to go with Finchy I got no problems with that. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.
“Anyway it’s hindsight, the good thing for the Sixers is Smith is on fire … it’s great for the BBL, you get to turn the tele on and watch Smith play last night, we saw Dave Warner. The international stars are playing which is good.”
Smith’s Big Bash form has been a revelation.
He has scored more runs in four Big Bash League games than he managed in his most recent 24 T20 internationals, dating back to September 2020. He didn’t reach fifty in any of those 24 matches.
Smith has been granted permission to play for the Sixers in their first BBL final against the Scorchers on January 28 before heading to India for the Test series.
Another big score from Smith could send the Sixers straight through to the BBL Final.