‘Houdini’ Smith will escape Kiwis’ trap
Justin Langer says Steve Smith is cricket's "Houdini" and declared he will find a way out of the straitjacket New Zealand have trapped him in.
If the Australian captain fails to make a 50 in the first innings on Boxing Day it will officially be the longest drought of his Test career.
The fact he's never gone more than five innings without a milestone illustrates the stunning consistency of Smith, and in normal terms it does not constitute anything near a rut.
However, few teams have executed plans to suffocate the world's best batsman better than the job Neil Wagner did on him in Perth.
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According to CricViz, Wagner bowled more short balls than any person has delivered in a Test match in Australia since 2006, with a stunning 178 - many of them directed at Smith's hip and midriff.
Wagner got the Australian out pulling in both innings in Perth, after strategically placing fieldsmen at leg gully and deep square and then peppering Smith at that uncomfortable length until he cracked.
Langer warned that as effective as Wagner was to Smith, New Zealand would need to find a plan B.
"A lot was made of it, the short-pitch bowling and Steve Smith," he said on Fox Cricket's, 360.
" … But one thing about Steve Smith is he's the greatest problem solver I've ever met in cricket. Don't worry about that. Imagine being an opposition trying to work out how to get Steve Smith out.
"In one sense, they've had a couple of little wins with the hook shots, but don't worry about Steve Smith - he'll be working it out over the next few weeks."
Langer praised Wagner as one of the great warriors of Test cricket, but questioned whether the 33-year-old could maintain his backbreaking work over the course of the series.
"Hopefully from our point of view, as fit as he is, and as great a competitor as he is, that it's going to take some energy out of him for the next two Test matches," said Langer.
New Zealand won't be shocked to know Smith is going to school on trying to find a solution to getting out of the Kiwi trap - in fact they've already caught him in the act.
"Any time you get Steve Smith out for less than his average is probably a good thing," said Blackcaps coach, Garry Stead.
"I have seen Steve Smith around the nets for the last few days and he will work very hard on his game to combat what we do.
"We need to have other plans as well if it doesn't work for us.
"It's not just about the planning, you have to be able to execute over a long period of time. We stuck to some plans for a long period of time. With Steve Smith, it worked in particular.
" … We'll be discussing (more short-pitch bowling at the MCG) as well as other (plans)."