Turner, Labuschagne return as wrist injury sidelines Smith from South Africa tour
Steve Smith has been ruled out of Australia's looming white-ball tour of South Africa with an untimely wrist injury. The decision has been taken on a precautionary basis after Smith picked up the injury at the fag end of the Ashes 2023 in England.
The modern-day stalwart was due to play both the three-match T20I series and the five-game ODI leg of the tour in the rainbow nation. But the selectors have opted not to take any risks with his injury and believe he should be fine for the subsequent ODI series in India before taking part in the 2023 World Cup.
Smith's injury caused by a tendon issue has proven to be a blessing for Marnus Labuschagne, who was initially left out of Australia's preliminary World Cup squad but now returns for the ODI series against South Africa. The corresponding replacement for T20Is is Ashton Turner, the big-hitting middle-order aggressor.
Chief selector George Bailey also confirmed that left-arm quick Mitchell Starc, rested from the T20I leg, will stay put at home even for the ODIs that follow as he continues to recover from soreness in his groin. Starc, like Smith, is expected to be fine for the ODI series versus India, starting September 22.
Smith ruled out of SA ODIs; Labuschagne earns comeback
In absence of Starc, uncapped left-arm quick Spencer Johnson, who was originally part of just the T20I squad, will remain in South Africa for the five ODIs. Bailey confirmed the developments on Smith and the rest of the touring contingent via a media interaction, stating a "conservative approach" is necessary keeping in mind the World Cup on Indian shores.
"The compacted Ashes series and the World Test Championship was a heavy load for the group, and we are taking a conservative approach to the build-up to the World Cup," said the former cricketer and selection chief.
"With the World Cup the priority of the squad, it was determined on advice that it was best for Steve and Mitchell to join the group in India by which time we expect them to be fully fit and available for the Indian ODI series, plus the World Cup warm-up fixture."
Bailey also confirmed that Glenn Maxwell will only be travelling for T20Is to South Africa as he returns home during the ODI leg to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Maxwell will comeback for the ODIs against India, which have now attained pivotal status in Australia's World Cup prep.
Smith's absence from T20Is, however, deny him the opportunity to build on gains made out of a fruitful return to BBL duties with Sydney Sixers last summer, scoring two hundreds. He was due to open in South Africa and potentially revive his fortunes in the shortest format under new skipper Mitchell Marsh with less than a year to go for the T20 World Cup 2024.
With Smith not around, Turner and Labuschagne have the chance to restrengthen their stocks, especially the latter after emerging as a major absentee from the preliminary 50-overs World Cup squad.