Smith hits Hayden’s ‘un-Australian’ Handscomb jibe for six

Steve Smith has saved one of his firmest shots of the Border-Gavaskar series for Matthew Hayden’s criticism of Pete Handscomb’s batting during Australia’s Indore victory.

Hayden decried Handscomb’s batting on the second morning of the third Test as “almost un-Australian” for emphasising survival in a slow scoring but critical partnership of 40 with Cameron Green.

Peter Handscomb stretches well forward in defence.Credit:AP

The Australian side has kept its counsel in the face of myriad criticism from Hayden’s generation following the exit of Justin Langer as head coach early last year, but on this occasion Smith, the stand-in captain for Pat Cummins, was unprompted in firing back.

“I was pretty disappointed to see some of the comments last Test match around him not playing the Australian way,” Smith said of Handscomb. “He’s batted the same in the first innings throughout the whole series.

“I think he’s been outstanding. The first two Test matches [31 and 72 not out] in the first innings of both and left pretty much stranded. If one of the other top seven were able to get in a partnership with him, things could certainly be different.”

A longtime exponent of highly skilled play against spin, Handscomb has vied with Usman Khawaja for the garlands as Australia’s best performing batter of the series, although Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and Smith have also had their moments.

“He batted beautifully in the first two, he’s stuck to his method, he’s trusted his defence, and then scored off balls that were either overpitched or too short and played them off the back foot,” Smith said. “His method has proved it’s worked in difficult conditions.

“So I was shocked to see some comments about the way he was playing because I think him and Uzzy [Khawaja] have probably been arguably our two best batters in this series.”

Hayden’s words had followed Handscomb’s dismissal by Ravinchandran Ashwin, the first of six wickets to fall for 11 runs to round off Australia’s first innings. The tourists went on to run down a fourth innings target of 76 for victory.

“He was very, very defensive with his mindset,” Hayden had said in commentary for Star. “His strike rate of under 20 means that you are not going anywhere, and the scoreboard is not going anywhere, and that’s a product of some really tough batting conditions … he was sort of like a sitting duck in many ways.

“It’s almost un-Australian. I don’t want anyone out there to think that I’m overly criticising Pete, I’m not. It’s just not quite attacking enough. It’s such a tricky balance.”

Earlier in the tour, Hayden had stated he was open to helping the Australian side as a batting mentor, but there remains a range of views within the camp about the “greatest generation”, the way they played their cricket and how they have critiqued the current side.

Some players, like Alex Carey or Nathan Lyon, have retained open dialogue with some of those players by way of seeking advice. But there is a shared determination for the contemporary unit to play the game in ways that suits their skills and personalities.

Smith had earlier termed “mind-boggling” the suggestion that on the surfaces used for the first three Tests the Australians should have played three quicks and one spin bowler, mirroring their formula on home soil.

“It’s been weird with a bit of the commentary back home, people talking about us playing three quicks and one spinner,” Smith said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling to me when we look at these surfaces and we see what we’ve had.

“It’s been 11 innings in six days or something like that, and spinners have taken the bulk of the wickets and you see how difficult it is to play the spin. It’s kind of odd to hear that kind of commentary, but we’ve had faith in what we’re trying to do and it’s good that we are able to show that we can play with three spinners and win.”

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