Matthew Wade will captain Australia on the one-day international tour of New Zealand after Steve Smith’s withdrawal due to injury dealt another major blow to the relevance of the Chappell-Hadlee series.
Following the earlier decision to rest David Warner from the series, Friday’s announcement that Smith will miss the tour means Australia will be without their on-field leaders, and two best batsmen, for a series that could clinch the reigning World Cup titleholders a lucrative bonus for topping the International Cricket Council’s ODI rankings.
While Smith’s injury is legitimate, the absence of Australia’s two biggest names from the series is further indication the team’s priority is the daunting challenge on the subcontinent rather than taking on their trans-Tasman rival.
It will also raise questions to the merits of having another Chappell-Hadlee series two months after the last battle, which was thrown in as a sweetener for New Zealand’s participation in last summer’s inaugural day-night Test.
Selectors met on Friday to decide on a stand-in captain and settled on Wade, who edged out former Twenty20 captain Aaron Finch and South Australia skipper Travis Head. Aborting Warner’s planned rest was discussed with the vice-captain but selectors decided against it.
Wade, who is also Victoria’s leader, will be Australia’s 24th captain in the ODI arena. Queensland youngster Sam Heazlett takes Smith’s place in the squad.
Smith injured his ankle on Thursday during the dead rubber ODI against Pakistan in Adelaide and will be sidelined for seven to 10 days, Cricket Australia said, but he is not believed to be in any doubt for the first Test against India, starting February 23.
Smith said he was having trouble walking but was confident it would not affect his Test preparations in Dubai, where Australia are holding a training camp.
“It was decided an hour ago that I’ve been ruled out of the New Zealand series,” Smith said on Friday morning.
“I’ve got a medial ligament injury to my left ankle. They think it’s a seven-to-10-day injury and I wouldn’t be fit for the first game, I’d be very unlikely for the second game and a possible for the third game. We’ve got a lot coming up so they think it’s an opportunity to rest it and be right for India.
“It’s a bit of a shock. I just landed really awkwardly on my foot and I felt something straight away. I was a little bit concerned, I’ve never really injured my ankle like that. I was in a bit of pain last night, I injured it and went off and got it strapped and looked at and was in a reasonable amount of pain in the field.”
While Smith has been in red hot form, it would have been too big a gamble to take Australia’s best player over to New Zealand and risk aggravating the injury before such a big series.
“I would have loved to have been in NZ, I feel like I’m batting really well at the moment,” Smith said.
“When I’m batting well I want to keep going. It’s disappointing from that aspect but we have pretty big fish to fry shortly in india. Hopefully the boys can do the job in the Chappell-Hadlee without me.”
The news was met with a mixed reception across the ditch as New Zealand now have a better chance of regaining the Chappell-Hadlee trophy, which they place a high importance on, though they would have liked to take on a full-strength Australian team.
“It’s disappointing for New Zealand because the Chappell-Hadlee series is the pinnacle event in our eyes – it’s a great opportunity for us against the No.1 ODI team in the world,” Black Caps selector Gavin Larsen said.
“You want to win against the best possible team you guys can put on the park. The thing that’s disappointing is you won’t be at full strength.
“[But] there’s no such thing as a bad Australian team. Your depth is tremendous, it will be one helluva scrap.”
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