Steve Smith, the former Australia captain, has agreed a deal to play three games for Sussex in May as part of his preparations for the summer’s Ashes and a probable appearance in the World Test Championship final.
The much-trailed move, agreed despite interest from other counties, mean Smith will play at Worcestershire on 4 May, at Leicestershire the following week and at Hove against Glamorgan – and his compatriot Marnus Labuschagne – the week after that. The World Test Championship final – in which Australia are likely to face India, though neither side has yet confirmed their place – will be played at the Oval in early June, with the Ashes starting at Edgbaston on 16 June.
In December, Ben Stokes, the England captain, reacted coolly to the prospect of Smith playing in the County Championship. “I guess it’s good for the county game to see players of Steve’s calibre want to come over and play,” he said. “But I don’t know. I think it’s one of those where you’d probably prefer them not to get any game time out here before the Ashes.”
While some critics on social media swiftly labelled Sussex “traitors” for assisting the Australian, Smith has been notably quick to emphasise the positive contribution he can make to the English game. He said he was “particularly looking forward to working with the younger players in the squad and hoping I can provide some guidance to them”.
Smith’s involvement in the ball-tampering scandal that Australia’s Test side became embroiled in during a tour of South Africa in 2018 – which led to him being banned from cricket for 12 months – continues to make him a somewhat controversial figure even if his playing achievements give him a genuine claim to greatness. In first-class cricket he averages 50.95 for New South Wales in Australia’s Sheffield Shield and 60.89 in 162 innings in 92 Tests. Of those to have played at least 25 times for any country only Don Bradman is above him.
He is ranked second among Test batters (behind Labuschagne) and will play for Sussex alongside India’s Cheteshwar Pujara, who is ranked No 22. His signing represents a coup for a county that finished seventh out of eight teams in Division Two of last year’s County Championship.
“To have arguably the world’s best batter play for Sussex just before an eagerly awaited Ashes Test series is great for us and the County Championship,” said Rob Andrew, the Sussex CEO. “Our Championship form has not been good enough for a number of years and under the new direction of head coach Paul Farbrace we are looking to be positive and ambitious.
“Being able to attract a player of Steve Smith’s calibre is a massive statement and will be of great benefit to our young homegrown players, particularly our crop of talented young batters.”