Sussex deny ‘helping Australia win the Ashes’ after signing Steve Smith

Steve Smith settles in at the County Cricket Ground in Hove (PA)
Steve Smith settles in at the County Cricket Ground in Hove (PA)

Few names are as synonymous with Australian cricket over the last decade than Steve Smith, but the batter admitted the upcoming Ashes could be his last tour of England.

The former Australia captain has ventured into the County Championship for the first time in his 13 years as an international cricketer for three matches with Sussex ahead of this summer’s Ashes.

However, Smith has categorically denied that his time on the south coast will be treated as an Ashes warm up.

“A window opened up to play some county cricket and it’s something I’ve never done and something I’ve always wanted to do, so the stars aligned in a way,” the 33-year-old said at a press conference in Hove.

Smith’s spell in county cricket has been controversial and criticised by those who have blamed Sussex and those higher up in the domestic game for allowing a number of Australians the opportunity to hone their craft ahead of the highly anticipated Ashes this summer.

But when pressed about his intentions, Smith instead referred to his impressive record last time Australia came over, when he averaged 110.57 across the series, suggesting he may not need the championship.

“I’m just excited to play some cricket. I obviously wasn’t doing much back home, so I’ve had a few weeks off and now it’s just about getting back into things.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about getting used to conditions, but you’ve got to remember I’ve played a lot of cricket in England before so the conditions aren’t really new to me.

“I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to hanging out with some of the younger batters and helping them a lot in their journey.”

Even former England assistant and now Sussex coach Paul Farbrace admitted he has been criticised for his decision to sign Smith, from those believing he has given the Australians a helping hand.

“Sport is about opinion, that’s what we love about the game,” Farbrace said. “I’m not surprised (by the critics) – I have good friends who think that we’re helping Steve and that we’re helping Australia win the Ashes – we’re not at all.”

While Division Two of the County Championship does not possess the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson who will undoubtedly – injury barring – line up against Australia on 16 June at Edgbaston, Smith has already encountered an England seamer at Sussex.

Ollie Robinson has been a key part of England’s team since overcoming fitness concerns over the last year and has already claimed the scalp of Smith in the nets.

England bowler Ollie Robinson will hope to feature in the Ashes (AP)
England bowler Ollie Robinson will hope to feature in the Ashes (AP)

“He bowled to me yesterday actually. I left one third ball and he bowled me over,” Smith said. “It wasn’t ideal. So, I was impressed with him actually when he was out in Australia and he has some really good skills.

“He’s quite tall and hits some good areas so it looks like he’s got better since then so I’m looking forward to playing with him this week and seeing how it goes. He’s obviously an exciting prospect for England with the skills he possesses.”

Australia have not won an Ashes series in England since 2001, when a side spearheaded by a bowling attack of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne stormed to a 4-1 victory.

While Smith has lifted the urn twice, both have been on Australian soil, and the now-33-year-old admitted this could be his final opportunity to secure the coveted win in England.

“Could this be my last (in England)? Potentially, I’m 34, but I’m not sure I’ll be back. Let’s see,” he said.