CRICKET: Allan Border has come out swinging in defence of Steve Smith, after the Australian skipper's tactics at the Gabba were widely condemned by a number of Test greats.
Michael Vaughan, Mark Taylor and Michael Clarke all put Smith under the microscope, suggesting his defensive field on day five was a way to hedge his bets.
In their eyes, Smith was hoping Pakistan would make a mistake and lose, when he really should have been more aggressive in pushing for a win.
Vaughan was the most stringent, describing Smith's tactics as "nothing short of ridiculous” on Twitter.
While Border understood the criticism, he empathised with Smith, who is only in the infancy of his captaincy.
"He's new to it so he's learning all of the time,” Border told Inside Cricket.
"I think he erred on the last morning by not attacking straight away. Hundred runs in the bank, two wickets to get, they probably could have attacked a little more in the first 20 minutes or so just to see how the game unfolded from there.
"But apart from that, I thought it was an excellent game of cricket.”
Ultimately, Australia walked away with the win. That of itself was significant, Border said, given Pakistan was the No.1-ranked Test team in August.
Mark Waugh agreed, saying Smith should be judged on his win-loss tally.
"At the end of the day it's all about results,” Waugh said.
"If we'd lost maybe the criticism is fair, but we won the Test match. As a captain that's your aim.”
Indeed, if Pakistan had chased down the record-breaking 490 total, the discourse surrounding Smith's tactics - including his decision not to enforce the follow on - would certainly have been more severe.
With Australia in a commanding position after skittling Pakistan for 142 runs, a follow on would have put the visitors in a mentally precarious position.
But Border said it also would have put an onerous strain on Australia's bowlers.
"Going back in time, we had rest days and that came into the thinking of (enforcing the follow on),” Border said.
"If you played well, batted first and knocked the other team over there was tendency to send them back in because you knew you had the rest day coming up.
"That was a factor in enforcing the follow on.”
Despite the narrow win, Smith's own game has only grown under the captaincy.
"His form is great obviously,” Waugh said.
"You look at his average and it's not far off the Don's so you can't do much better than that.”
In his 18 Tests as skipper, he has averaged 70.14 with the bat, which is almost 20 runs better than what he averaged before taking over the captaincy.
Border indicated his tactical nous would follow suit.
"He's had a tough little period in these last couple of Test matches,” Border said.
"I think he's heading in the right direction. And his own cricket - he's holding that together so well - and he's only going to get better and better with his captaincy.”
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