SYDNEY: Australian batsman Steve Smith attends a news conference on Monday.—AFP
SYDNEY: Australian batsman Steve Smith attends a news conference on Monday.—AFP

SYDNEY: Australia star Steve Smith admitted on Monday he has barely picked up a bat since cricket shut down, but said he was in his best physical shape in years.

The 30-year-old, the world’s number one Test batsman, has been out of action since March, when Australia’s one-day series against New Zealand was abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He returned to training with his New South Wales teammates on Monday as they await the green light for competitive cricket to start again, targeting a home one-day series against Zimbabwe in August.

“I feel like I’ve had a pre-season the last couple of months. Got myself into probably the best shape I’ve been in years. Lots of running, lots of gym stuff,” Smith said.

“It’s been a couple of months of good hard work and now back with the boys, which is great.” But with no net practice, he has barely picked up his bat.

“I haven’t touched a bat, really. A couple of little drills at home but that’s about it,” said Smith, who has plundered more than 7,000 Test runs.

“I’ve just tried to switch off from it a bit, which I don’t do very often. I was just focussing on getting myself fit and strong and refreshing mentally.

“It’s been a bit different but I’m sure in the long run it will probably be a good thing to freshen up after what was a pretty long year-and-a-half since the World Cup and Ashes and summer here.

“I’m refreshed and ready to go,” he added.

Smith also said Australia’s senior players will be ready to assume additional duties like giving throw-downs to team mates in practice if further cost-cutting means fewer support staff.

Cricket Australia (CA) has furloughed about 80% of its workforce due to the coronavirus pandemic and state associations have made deep staff cuts in recent weeks.

CA chief Kevin Roberts suggested on Friday there could be another round of cost-cutting to shore up the board’s finances.

“Particularly the senior players being able to maybe take a bit of time off your own game and help someone else out at training or something like that,” Smith said.

“They (support staff) all have a role to play, particularly as the game evolved and got more professional.

“We’ve got people in different areas of expertise to help the team prepare and get ready to play.

“Guys might have to throw to one of the other batters or help out the bowlers in some way.

“If that happens, it will take a bit of adjusting.” On the proposed ban on using saliva to polish the ball, Smith thinks it could disrupt the game’s bat-ball balance.

“I’ve always been one for a fair contest between bat and ball. Even as a batter if that’s taken away, I don’t think that’s great,” Smith said.

“I actually spit on my hands most balls and that’s how I get grip and stuff. So that might take some adjusting to certain things like that.”

If the virus had not struck, Smith would have been in the plane to Bangladesh this month for a two-Test series, after playing in the postponed Indian Premier League.

He was one of six Cricket Australia-contracted players in the New South Wales squad who rejoined their state teammates on Monday, including David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.

The squad has been divided into four groups who alternate morning and afternoon indoor gym and skills sessions as part of Covid-19 return-to-training protocols.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020