Aussies look to replace irreplacable talisman Smith
Take out one-third of a team's runs and what, exactly, is left? This is the question facing Australia at Headingley today, where they must find a way to score sufficient runs without Steve Smith.
When Smith suffered his concussion at Lord's, the joke was that the only "like-for-like replacement" had been born in Cootamundra more than a century earlier and passed away in 2001. Yet arguably even this understated Smith's importance to Australia this series.
Throughout his indomitable career, Don Bradman scored 25.3 per cent of Australia's runs. So far in the 2019 Ashes, Smith accounts for 32.2 per cent of Australia's runs - even though he could not bat in the second innings at Lord's. His tally of 378 runs this series is, absurdly, a full 253 clear of Australia's next highest scorer, Travis Head.
Replacing Smith is like trying to do without oxygen: it cannot be done, even though Marnus Labuschagne did an admirable impression in the second innings at Lord's.
"We do it as a team," captain Tim Paine said of trying to make up for Smith's runs. "There aren't too many guys - there's only one other - that have averaged higher than Steve in Test cricket. Clearly, they are huge shoes to fill and we don't put all that pressure on Marnus. Marnus comes in to play a role in our team and it's up to everyone else, particularly our senior players, to just make sure we give that little bit more output and cover Steve as best we can."
If Australia are to thrive - or, at least, survive - in Smith's absence, that process must begin with extracting more runs from their openers.
For while Smith has returned astonishingly from his 16-month absence from Test cricket, so far David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, Australia's opening pair, have mustered a combined 60 runs across their eight innings.
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