Steven Smith in action for the NSW Blues. Photo: Getty Images
Steve Smith has confirmed that he intends to go after Graeme Swann in the first Ashes Test starting on Thursday, making little secret that Australia believes it can expose a significant chink in the tourists' armour by attacking the England spinner.
Swann starred in England's 3-0 Ashes win in the northern hemisphere, leading the wicket tally with 26 at an average of 29 over the five matches. But already he is learning that life may not be as comfortable in foreign conditions.
The big-hitting Aaron Finch, playing for Cricket Australia's Invitational XI, launched into him at the SCG on Friday before predicting more of the same from the Australian team this summer and Smith was not disguising his intentions on Saturday.
England's Graeme Swann. Photo: Getty Images
''I think the more he bowls they try and give the quick bowlers a rest,'' the 24-year-old said after NSW wrapped up a 150-run win over Queensland in their Sheffield Shield match in Brisbane.
''So if we attack him and they have to bring the quicks back that's going to be good for us. I think that's going to be our game plan.''
Smith, arguably Australia's best player of spin after skipper Michael Clarke, plans to lead the attack on Swann in the middle order in the first Test and predicts the 34-year-old may struggle away from the dusty tracks during the English summer.
Illustration: Matt Golding.
''They were pretty dry wickets in England. I'm sure they won't have the same assistance as they did over there so I think it's a good opportunity for us to try and get on top of someone like that,'' he said.
Swann prefers bowling to left-handers and the fact that there are only two of them - Chris Rogers and David Warner - among the specialist Australian batsmen may also work to the host's advantage.
Finch, who slogged Swann out of the ground at the SCG on Friday before top-edging him to point off the next ball when he tried to belt another six, forecast a similar strategy by the likes of Smith, Clarke, Shane Watson and George Bailey.
''I think we saw towards the end of the Ashes last time, they tried to attack him quite early, and had a bit of success doing that,'' Finch said.
''I suppose when you let a quality, world-class spinner settle in and just keep bowling, the chances are he's going to get a wicket eventually. So if you can get on the front foot to him try and attack him early and put him under a bit of pressure, it can help guys through the middle order. We've got very, very good players of spin - Pup [Clarke], Smithy, Watto and Bails now - all very, very good.
''If that's part of the game plan, being attacking and free-flowing against someone like that can't be a bad thing. I think that's the way these guys play, and have had a lot of success doing that. Knowing 'Boof' [coach Darren Lehmann], it will be a bit of a game plan.''
On the flipside, Smith said Australia's batsmen were prepared to face what they anticipate will be plenty of short-pitched bowling from an England line-up featuring the 196-centimetre Stuart Broad and, in increasing likelihood, the 201-centimetre Chris Tremlett.
''They've obviously got a tall fast bowling unit out here; we're certainly going to expect some short-pitched bowling at some point throughout.''
■Watching Shane Watson stretch out at training in Brisbane has not been enough to convince Craig McDermott that the Australian all-rounder will bowl in the first Ashes Test.
But the national bowling coach still likes what he sees ahead of the Gabba Test thanks to what he believes is a much more encouraging sight in the nets - a fired-up Mitchell Johnson in full flight.
Watson completed light running drills before another lengthy batting session on Saturday as he recovers from a hamstring injury ahead of the Test starting on Thursday.
He held out hope that he could bowl in Brisbane but is awaiting the opinion of team doctor and former Liverpool physio Peter Brukner, who arrived in Brisbane on Saturday.
''He has certainly given me great advice over the last six months, especially with my body,'' the injury-plagued Watson said.
''I am confident I will be there as a batsman. To play as a bowler would be an ideal scenario. From previous experiences I will err on the side of caution. But if my body is right to [bowl] that's what I will be doing.''
But McDermott appeared to have already made up his mind.
''We will wait until the day before the game to see where he is with his bowling,'' he said. ''But he hasn't bowled so far. To rip him straight into a Test match would be pretty difficult at this stage.''
However, McDermott was unfazed by the prospect of not using Watson in his attack after watching Johnson tear into the Brisbane nets in the past two days.
McDermott was so impressed he hinted that the once-erratic quick so easily influenced by Barmy Army taunts was likely to be thrown the new ball in his first Test since March.
''I think there's a good chance he will if he can use it from a swing perspective - 155 km/h inswingers are a handful for anyone,'' he said.
''And going away to the left-handers he will be tough to play. I like where Mitchell is at at the moment from an attitude or head space point of view and his pace and seam position.''
McDermott was coy when asked to compare attacks ahead of the Test after running the rule over Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris at training in Brisbane but rated Johnson as ''formidable''.
''I back their ability to knock anyone over,'' he said. ''[Harris] is probably statistically the best performing bowler in Australian history. [Siddle] is in the top five in the world.
You don't get there bowling rubbish.''
And this is the best Mitchell has been bowling in a long time - and fast.
''From a balance point of view I couldn't be happier.''