Overthinking Smith facing a conundrum only he can nut out

But the others were dismissed in orthodox ways. Joe Burns, inevitably, received a very good delivery from Umesh Yadav when an average one might have sufficed. Marnus Labuschagne got a sumptuous arm-ball from Ravi Ashwin, similar to the one that dismissed Smith in Adelaide, and to be honest it’s hard to imagine any batsman in the world doing any better.

Matthew Wade was again Australia’s most convincing batsman, Travis Head looked absolutely fine until he looked completely adrift, and Tim Paine let his disappointment edge close to the line of dissent. But theirs were all regulation dismissals.

Smith’s was the strange one, Jasprit Bumrah’s only wicket (stranger still), a delivery aimed successfully at that not-often-heard target, top of leg.

Australia are vulnerable because they haven’t passed 200 runs. Smith is the missing link between his team and a substantial score, and his internal contact tracers will be working day and night to find it. More sleepless nights lie ahead.

He could not defy gravity forever – only one batsman has ever done that – and a form slump is intrinsic to the game they play.

In Smith’s case, because of his unusual technique, the weaknesses that emerged were always going to look as odd as the strengths, and the problem-solving challenge he now faces is not one that can be found in any textbook. Make no mistake, he has a problem to solve.

Spectators remarked on his distracted demeanour when Australia were in the field. He was one of five to drop catches – a hard one to be sure, but it was Ajinkya Rahane. The most tolerant eye would have assumed Smith’s concentration was lost in a dream of the huge innings he was planning.

When he came to the wicket, Australia were again two down for not many. He appeared fretful, preoccupied with not repeating his first-innings dismissal turning Ashwin to leg slip.

The pair faced off like obsessed lovers who had been thinking of each other day and night. Each had their plans for this date.

Ashwin had the advantage of having planted two opposite traumatic memories inside Smith’s head: the one that went away and the one that turned in. Not to mention the lurking straight one.

Up to the tea break, Smith faced 20 deliveries, all but three of them from Ashwin. He looked a bit stuck. There was more fear than hope, as if he was waiting for the ball he had been up all night rehearsing for. Then it came, and he almost jumped out of his skin as he turned it just wide of the waiting catcher. His reaction reassured nobody.

After tea, with the game set up for Smith to bat Australia out of trouble, he got stuck again. This time it was Bumrah. A leg-side cordon blocked easy runs, and skiddy bouncers brought back memories of Neil Wagner last summer. By his own admission, Smith’s batting has always required a lot of thinking, but there is thinking and over-thinking. To miss one on his leg stump betrayed a head full of racing thoughts.

Whatever else happens in this game, Australia are having to wean themselves off their reliance on Smith just as India have weaned themselves off Virat Kohli. The biggest favour the Australians can do their champion is to allow him to solve his problems without thinking the whole game rests on his shoulders. At some point, he will figure it out.

But the degree of difficulty couldn’t be higher right now, against the best pace and spin bowlers to have toured Australia during Smith’s career and an opposing team that has thought about him every bit as much as he has thought about himself.

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Saints fail in appeal to free hard nut

The crux of St Kilda’s case, one put forward by Saints director and Long’s player advocate Jack Rush QC, was that the jury on Monday night had given undue weight to the potential to cause serious injury, rather than the fact that Macrae had not actually been injured in the incident. Rush suggested that looking into the potential for serious injury was overly speculative.

“This is a glancing blow, and before we recharacterise the extent of this glancing contact, extreme care should be given, and it hasn’t here,” Rush said.

“We maintain very strongly that all they have looked at is the potential for injury and have not weighed up and taken into consideration … that there was no injury.”

Rush also noted that Long’s approach to the contest had actually reduced the potential for serious injury, a factor which he said the tribunal had not taken into account.

Rush described Long “as like a tennis player coming up to the net” in the build-up to contact with Macrae.

“They are both running to the contest, they are both preparing to engage with each other,” Rush said.

However Jeff Gleeson QC, acting as counsel for the AFL, argued that the classification of the impact to Macrae as “medium” rather than “low” was the right one.

“It’s not outside the permissible range because of the potential for injury … the potential for injury was apparent,” Gleeson said.

“A few millimetres either way, a few milliseconds either way and the outcome is different.”

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