‘I don’t coach Steve Smith. Steve Smith coaches himself’: Langer
Justin Langer is adamant that Steve Smith will find a way to break out of his batting funk and ignite Australia in the pivotal third Test against India.
Such is the spotlight on Smith that the batting master is seen to be out of form, having failed in three major innings in the series.
It's been largely forgotten that he crunched back-to-back centuries in the white-ball series against India little more than a month ago but Smith, to his credit, does admit he needs to change his approach if he is to again take charge in the red-ball format, with the series locked at one win apiece.
Smith has twice been dismissed by off-spinner Ravi Ashwin – caught at slip in the first innings of the first Test in Adelaide for one and at leg slip in the first innings in Melbourne without scoring – while, on eight, he had his leg stump disturbed by paceman Jasprit Bumrah in the second innings at the MCG. Smith had over-corrected by stepping too far across to the off-side, exposing his stumps, and Bumrah's natural angle ensured his opponent was bowled by a seamer for only the seventh time in a home Test.
He finished one not out in Australia's successful run chase in Adelaide, leaving him with 10 runs at 3.33, and without a century since the 2019 Ashes tour.
Smith, averaging 61.33 after 75 Tests, has spoken about the need to adopt a more attacking manner to Ashwin, and by extension, the entire Indian attack, which has forced leg-side catches because of its persistent stump-line attack.
Langer has kept a close watch on Smith in the nets but, ultimately, it's up to the former captain, known as a great problem solver, to find a way to have an impact.
"Imagine how good we will be when he does start batting – that's how I look at it," Langer said.
"He hasn't had the best of series so far. He will be the first to admit that. My gosh, what I know about great players, the longer they miss out, the sooner they are coming good again. That puts a big smile on my face. How do you coach Steve? I don't coach Steve Smith. Steve Smith coaches himself and I am sure he is going to work it out.
"He is a great player and I can't wait to watch him bat this Test match and the next Test match and, hopefully, for as long as I am coach."
Smith has spoken of his frustration at not having spent enough time in the middle to find his rhythm. He struggled for form during the Indian Premier League leading into the summer but later revealed he had "found his hands" during a net session at Blacktown Sports Park.
As part of his unorthodox technique, Smith explained that phrase as "just getting that feel and the look of the bat behind my toe the right way and the way my hands come up on the bat".
Smith, typically, has hit hundreds of deliveries in the nets in between the Melbourne and Sydney Tests although weather issues have hampered this.
"Steve is always hitting a lot of balls. He did a lot leading up to it [MCG Test] but, again, there is nothing, even for the greatest of players, there is nothing that replaces time in the middle. And we know what a great problem solver he is, we know what a great player he is," Langer said.
What would almost certainly help him was if he began his innings with the Australians on a roll. While some of his best knocks have been with his side in trouble, he hasn't been able to replicate that this series, beginning his three main innings with the team total on 29, 35 and 42.
The Australians hope that will change now the robust David Warner is expected to return from injury.
"Davey will be the same, he hasn't spent much time in the middle, so the only way to do that is concentrate and fight hard and earn the right to have spent time in the middle. It's hard to replicate," Langer said.
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