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World Number One Smith the key figure in Ashes battle

After a stunning 12 months in international cricket, it was no surprise to see Australia’s Steve Smith confirmed as the number one ranked test batsman. The 26 year old saved Australia in his most recent test with a brilliant 199 against the West Indies and he is one of the key reasons why his side will start as Ashes favourites in this English summer.

England just have to dismiss Smith cheaply throughout the five tests but there is no sign that the New South Wales batsman is about to give up his position as the world’s best.

Meteoric Rise

When Steve Smith first came into the Australian side he was looked on as a bit of a joke. As a leg spinner who could bat a bit, the 21 year old was another in a long line of bowlers, failing to replace the recently retired Shane Warne. In two tests against Pakistan, Smith didn’t even bowl in the first innings but there was a little promise shown in second innings figures of 3-51.

In the second test at Leeds, the youngster made a stubborn 77 batting at number eight but ten wicketless overs indicated that the search for the new Warne was far from over.

Transformed

Who could have possibly guessed that five years on from that unimpressive debut, Steve Smith would be considered as the best batsman in World Cricket? Following the Jamaica test where the player made 199 and 54 not out, he now has 2587 test runs at an average of over 56 and all he needs now is that test double hundred.

Will a double ton come in the Ashes series? Smith is a very unorthodox batter but has no discernible weakness and with England’s pace attack struggling for form right now, we should expect some more marathon knocks from the Aussie.

As for the leg spin, it rarely comes out these days as Smith has now moved up the order from number nine to number three but he can be a useful partnership breaker on those rarer occasions when the opposition batsmen are on top.

Getting better

If Steve Smith’s overall stats aren’t worrying enough for English supporters, his recent performances are simply frightening. The 26 year old has five centuries in his last six tests and nine from his last 17. Those scores help combine to form a stunning average from his last 12 knocks of 131.50.

The key to success is peaking at the right time and if Smith continues that hot streak, it’s tough to see how England can possibly reclaim the Ashes at the end of the summer. Elsewhere, openers David Warner and Shaun Marsh struggled a little against the West Indies but skipper Michael Clarke is finally free from injury and somewhere near his best. Adam Voges made a debut ton in Dominica and the Aussie top order looks as strong as ever.

Meanwhile, the West Indian batsmen were no match for the pace battery of Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, and these three men are set to enjoy themselves on friendly English surfaces.

More worryingly for the home side is the form of key players such as Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Moeen Ali, although there were solid performances against New Zealand from Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Ben Stokes.

Overall, England should be more competitive when the Ashes begins in Cardiff but if the sides do find themselves to be evenly matched, it’s likely that Steve Smith will be the difference between the two as Australia look to retain the Urn.

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