Steve Smith signing for Sussex will not decide Ashes outcome - JonathanBreaking

January 20, 2023

The signing of Steve Smith is great news for Sussex, county cricket and all those who are going to play with or against him. It is a very easy argument to say: "Good old English cricket, giving a warm-up to Australia's best batsman before the Ashes." It is also short-sighted. Yes, Smith will get some benefit from his time at Hove before Australia try to win their first Ashes series in this country in 22 years.

But, in reality, the amount of learning that can be done by anyone who comes into contact with him should outweigh his three-match reconnaissance of English conditions. For county cricketers, it is all about getting up close to one of the finest players of the generation. They should seize the opportunity with open arms.

It is not a new thing for the world's best players to ply their trade in county cricket. Smith himself has played some T20 cricket for Worcestershire, while his fellow Australian middle-order run machine Marnus Labuschagne has been prolific for Glamorgan. In reality, the standard of overseas players has dropped in recent years because of the amount of cricket played all over the world during the English summer.

Back in the 1980s and '90s, counties would often have two world-class players who returned year after year, only missing if their national team happened to be touring England that summer. Richard Hadlee at Nottinghamshire, Imran Khan at Sussex, Wasim Akram at Lancashire. They were as much a part of the squad as the local players.

As a 23-year-old just making my way into the Leicestershire team, I was very upset when we signed the great West Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts. I thought my place in the side had gone. The chief executive, Mike Turner, told me that if I was good enough, I would play. He was right and that's exactly what happened. I bowled with Andy, travelled with him and roomed with him. On long journeys we would talk bowling, but also get to know each other. I learned about his great love of music. I played for England largely thanks to Andy's influence.

He understood, as all the best overseas players do, that the job is not just to score runs and take wickets, but also to give something back to the game by helping young players.

It wasn't just from Andy that I benefited. Leicestershire played Nottinghamshire on a regular basis and when we did, I always sought out Hadlee and Clive Rice. I would sit with them, talk to them and pick their brains about fast bowling. They were happy to help and we weren't even from the same team.

I'm sure that someone like Smith, who absolutely loves talking cricket, will be exactly the same. "I am particularly looking forward to working with the younger players in the squad and hoping I can provide some guidance to them," he said when the deal was announced on Thursday.

Think of Tom Haines, the Sussex opener who has been touted as a future England player and is in the Lions squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. Haines should be sitting next to Smith in the dressing room, getting tips from him in the nets and taking him out for dinner.

The same goes for young batsmen who Smith will play against. He would probably appreciate the questions and respect the players who ask them. As for bowlers, it is a fantastic opportunity to see what it takes to bowl at one of the best in the world, to learn what it takes to step up to Test level. Imagine the headlines a youngster will make if he gets Smith out cheaply.

If it was me, I'd be imagining that I was bowling at Smith in that first Ashes Test at Edgbaston. I'd be thinking that I could do England favour by denting his confidence.

And let's not forget that Smith is likely to be sharing a dressing room with Ollie Robinson (Jofra Archer is also at Sussex, but will be at the Indian Premier League). Smith and Robinson probably don't have a lot to learn about each other, but it can't hurt for Robinson to get a good look at Smith in the nets. Clearly, there is a difference between what Smith is doing when compared with those overseas players of the past.

He is a professional batsman who is coming as part of his preparation for the World Test Championship final and the Ashes. He is hoping that a few matches for Sussex put his game in the best possible place for the huge summer ahead.

Even if he does score a stack of runs in the Championship, that does not mean he will carry that form into the Ashes. It does not work like that. He could still quite easily edge the first ball he faces from James Anderson and walk off for a duck. Yes, Smith could enter the Ashes brimming with confidence, but he could also be searching for runs after a lean spell on some early-season English pitches.

Credit : Independent News Pakistan-INP