Steve Smith has signed for Sussex ahead of the County Championship, with the Australian Test vice-captain set to play three first-class matches for the domestic side in preparation for the Ashes.
The 33-year-old will face Worcestershire, Leicestershire and Glamorgan in May ahead of the World Test Championship final, scheduled for early June, and the 2023 Ashes series, which gets underway at Edgbaston on June 16.
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Smith is expected to come up against Australian teammate Marnus Labuschagne when Sussex faces Glamorgan in Hove on May 18.
“I am excited about joining Sussex for a few games in May and hopefully making a contribution to a successful season,” Smith, the world’s No. 2 ranked Test batter, said in a statement.
“I am particularly looking forward to working with the younger players in the squad and hoping I can provide some guidance to them.”
Smith has never played in the County Championship, but the New South Welshman featured in a handful of T20 Blast matches for Worcestershire in 2010.
The right-hander will join India’s Cheteshwar Pujara at Sussex, who finished second bottom in the Division Two ladder last year.
Smith, currently second in the ICC’s all-time Test batting rankings behind Sir Donald Bradman, will face England paceman Ollie Robinson in the Sussex nets, but Ashes rival Jofra Archer will be playing Indian Premier League cricket throughout May.
In 16 Tests on English soil, Smith has plundered 1727 at 59.55, including six centuries and seven fifties. Only four touring cricketers boast more Test runs at a higher average — Allan Border, Sir Vivian Richards and Bradman.
“We are thrilled to have Steve Smith available for our County Championship matches in May,” Sussex Cricket chief executive Rob Andrew said in a statement.
“To have arguably the world’s best batter play for Sussex just before an eagerly awaited Ashes Test series is great for us and the County Championship.
“Our Championship form has not been good enough for a number of years, and under the new direction of Head Coach Paul Farbrace, we are looking to be positive and ambitious.
“Being able to attract a player of Steve Smith’s caliber is a massive statement and will be of great benefit to our young homegrown players, particularly our crop of talented young batters.”
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Smith’s appointment has not resonated well over in England, where cricket fans have accused Sussex of helping the Australian acclimatise to local conditions ahead of the Ashes.
“It’s good for the county game to see players of Steve’s caliber want to come over and play,” England captain Ben Stokes said in December.
“But I don’t know. It’s one of those where you probably prefer them not to get any game time in England before the Ashes.”
However, England men’s cricket performance director Mo Bobat argued last week: “It’s good for our bowlers to bowl at Steve Smith. It’s good for young batters to bat with him. There is upside.
“You could say it helps him prep and that could be a disadvantage to England. I don’t spend too much time thinking about that. If we play to our potential we know we can beat anyone, the way we are playing our cricket. We will focus on that.”
Former England bowler Jonathan Agnew wrote on BBC Sports: “For county cricketers, it is all about getting up close to one of the finest players of the generation. They should seize the opportunity with open arms.”