Steve Smith eyes county stint ahead of Ashes series

Steve Smith of Australia bats during day four of the First Test match between Australia and the West Indies at Optus Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Perth, Australia - Exclusive: Steve Smith eyes county stint ahead of Ashes - Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Steve Smith of Australia bats during day four of the First Test match between Australia and the West Indies at Optus Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Perth, Australia - Exclusive: Steve Smith eyes county stint ahead of Ashes - Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Steve Smith is eyeing up a first stint in the County Championship in order to prepare for Australia’s Ashes defence next summer.

Smith, one of the world’s premier Test batsmen, is understood to have held informal conversations with counties as he looks to secure some cricket in English conditions.

There is a gap in Smith’s schedule for a spell of three, or perhaps four, Championship matches in May (and perhaps late April), before joining up with Australia’s squad for what would be his fourth – and possibly final – Ashes series in England.

Whether England would be happy with counties offering preparation for Ashes opponents is unclear, but Marnus Labuschagne, Australia’s other outstanding batsman, is already committed to another spell with Glamorgan.

Travis Head and Usman Khawaja are others who may seek further county experience ahead of the series.

Australia are strong favourites to be involved in the World Test Championship final at the Kia Oval in early June, before the Ashes begin at Edgbaston on June 16.

After their home summer, Australia are due to play a four-Test series in India in February and March, with exact dates and venues still yet to be announced.

Smith has then opted not to enter the auction for the Indian Premier League (which takes place this month). He is likely to head home for a break before, ideally, picking up a short county stint that would provide preparation for the summer ahead.

Smith, who has British citizenship via his London-born mother, has previously played in the T20 Blast for Worcestershire in 2010.

In 2007, as an 18-year-old, Smith represented Sevenoaks Vine CC in Kent, which led to him playing for Surrey’s Second XI and being offered a contract at the Oval.

He turned it down to pursue a career with New South Wales.

Many counties would be interested in a player of Smith’s quality, although the disruptive aspect of a short-term deal may put some off.

Some counties have their overseas roster for the early part of their season worked out, while others will wait until after the IPL auction to see exactly what they need. Most counties have at least one of their two remaining overseas slots remaining.

Smith already has a superb Test record in England, with an average of 61.4 from 14 Tests (slightly below his career average of 61.6), including an extraordinary series in 2019 when he made three hundreds in four Tests and averaged 110.5.

Smith and Labuschagne, who both scored double-centuries against West Indies in Perth last week, are not the only Australians to forego an IPL stint next year, with skipper Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc also not signing up.

It is understood that it is far less likely that either would play county cricket than the batsmen, however.