Pakistan’s fielding coach Steve Rixon has lobbed a grenade at the Australian dressing room, suggesting the team’s coaching staff is telling captain Steve Smith what fields to set.
Rixon was speaking in defence of Smith, who has been accused of being too conservative. Though he did not mention Darren Lehmann by name, his comments will be interpreted as a thinly veiled swipe over the influence he wields on the team.
Although a big fan of Smith, who also cut his teeth in grade cricket at Sutherland, Rixon has effectively portrayed the Australian captain as a puppet for the coaching staff.
“I think there were lots of other people at the top there making him set the set of fields he probably was instructed to do,” Rixon told Sky Sports radio.
“People talking about him and criticising him should have a closer look at the situation. It did expose his vulnerability as a new captain and that’s fine, that’s how you learn to get better. And he will only be stronger for it.”
It’s not the first time during Lehmann’s reign there have been suggestions the coach and management have too much power within the Australian set-up.
Former captain Michael Clarke, who had a rocky relationship with Lehmann, wrote in his book My Story that he was unhappy with the “sweeping change” performance boss and former Wallaby Pat Howard had made to the system.
“In rugby, the captain is the boss on the field and the coach is the boss off the field. Simple. But that’s not the way I see the game,” Clarke wrote.
A close ally of Clarke, Rixon’s departure further weakened Clarke’s power base at a time when he was at odds with Lehmann and then chairman of selectors Rod Marsh.
Lehmann has always insisted the captain has the final say over what happens on the field, a view echoed by an insider on Thursday.
Rixon said Australia’s dressing room had become “panicky” as Pakistan closed in on an unlikely victory. “I saw a lot of very nervous campers all of a sudden for the first time,” Rixon said. “I would have thought they would have turned up thinking, ‘we’re just going to win this, it’s only going to take two good balls and that’s it’. Well guess what, it wasn’t.”
Pakistan have identified Smith as the key man that is shielding Australia’s inexperienced batting line-up. While Peter Handscomb has made a seamless transition to Test cricket, Pakistan are keen to see if the No.5 can reproduce the goods if forced to the crease early.
The visitors also believe Australia are vulnerable at numbers six and seven. Matthew Wade has not produced a decent score since his recall. Nic Maddinson is struggling and the man in line to replace him, Hilton Cartwright, will be on debut.
“[Smith] is huge to Australia’s success and they rely on him a lot, like David Warner,” Pakistan batting coach Grant Flower said.
“We do place an importance on it. Getting him out early would be huge for us. Hopefully we have a few plans we can put in place and see what happens.”