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England planning selection around stopping Steve Smith in second Ashes Test

Having bewildered bowlers at Edgbaston like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Steve Smith has now entered the minds of England's selectors.

The hosts are under pressure to bounce back in the Ashes after Australia grabbed a 1-0 lead in the five-Test series.

That sentiment applies to England's batsmen and bowlers but also their selectors, who are expected to drop off-spinning allrounder Moeen Ali for the Lord's Test that starts next Wednesday.

Moeen's Test record with the ball over the past 12 months is sensational, having snared a world-best 48 wickets at 25.27 during that stretch.

But his struggles with the bat against Nathan Lyon in Birmingham, coupled with an underwhelming day-four effort with the ball, has left selectors pondering whether to back the incumbent or promote left-arm tweaker Jack Leach.

Smith, so clearly the difference in the series opener, is likely to influence the final call.

One of the most impressive elements of the batsman's man-of-the-match performance was the fashion in which he swung momentum in the second innings, scoring remarkably freely given the match was in the balance.

Moeen failed to create dot-ball pressure, partly because of his lack of control but also Smith's peerless ability to manoeuvre the ball where he wants.

Smith had no obvious weakness for England to target in the first Test but there is a school of thought that left-arm orthodox spinners, like Leach, are his kryptonite.

CricViz analysis shows Smith's batting average against left-arm finger spin is 34.9, incredibly modest when compared to his overall Test average of 62.96.

The obvious caveat is that Sri Lanka's Rangana Herath and Indian Ravindra Jadeja have done most of that damage on the subcontinent.

But Smith's ill-fated tour of South Africa last year also featured two dismissals to Keshav Maharaj and one to part-timer Dean Elgar, both left-arm orthodox spinners.

The counter argument in the selection debate is that Moeen should be better placed to trouble Australia's left-handers, such as Travis Head.

Head suggested Smith deserved all the credit for getting on top of Moeen during their 130-run partnership at Edgbaston.

"I was very lucky to have Steve at the other end. He's one of the best players of spin in the world," Head said.

"For left-handers it was quite difficult (facing Moeen) throughout the Test.

"I probably didn't have the plan of going after him.

"Wadey (Matthew Wade) has a reverse sweep in the bag and put a lot of pressure on him."

Head praised Smith's calming influence at the crease, as much about presence as it is pointers.

"Not a lot was said between us," Head said.

"Very relaxed ... he's fantastic to bat with. He sucks the momentum out of the opposition.

"He obviously takes a bit of pressure off myself.

"They are trying to think of some plans to him, so I was able to go a little bit under the radar."

Steve Smith bats in the first Ashes Test
Steve Smith bats in the first Ashes Test Source: Photosport


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