London, June 5
Australia vice-captain Steve Smith believes England left-arm spinner Jack Leach being ruled out of the Ashes due to injury has left big shoes for the side to fill ahead of the highly-anticipated five-game series.
Leach has been ruled out of the Ashes series due to a stress fracture in his back. In seven Ashes matches, he picked 18 wickets at an average of 35.05. Leach had established himself as England's main spinner under Ben Stokes' captaincy and was the only specialist spinner named in the 16-man squad for the first two Tests.
"I watched little bits and pieces (of the England vs Ireland Test at Lord's). England played pretty well, didn't they? The news of Leachy broke yesterday, I think it's a real shame. He's done really well for England in the last 12-18 months in particular."
"It's going to be some big shoes for them to fill, I don't know what way they'll go but yes, big shoes to fill. I feel for him, obviously, he wants to be involved in the Ashes series. Hopefully, he recovers well," said Smith in a press conference ahead of Australia's World Test Championship (WTC) Final clash with India at The Oval from June 7-11.
Smith spent his entire month of May playing for Sussex in the County Championship in a bid to acclimatise to the conditions in England ahead of the WTC Final and Ashes. He insisted Australia are focused firmly on winning WTC Final, before turning their focus towards Ashes.
"I'm just playing each game as it comes. I'm not even thinking about the opposition too much. I'm just going out and playing the game. And that's really it, to be fair. So we'll get through this game and then we'll start focusing on England after that."
"But we're all just looking forward to this week. As I said before, it's two years in the making, I suppose, of getting to the final of the World Test Championships. So, it's a big week for us and India. So we'll get through this and then we'll focus after that."
"Every game you play for your country is important, every series is important but yes certainly the Ashes series here -- it's one that's eluded us, we've never won here. We got close last time but couldn't quite get over the line."
"But it's certainly something that I'd love to tick off my bucket list, winning an Ashes Series here. In terms of one-day cricket, the World Cup's the biggest tournament in the white-ball format, so it's still a little while away, so we'll focus on that later, but it's certainly one that we want to win as well."
Smith signed off by admitting he's concerned about the future of Test cricket despite a championship in place, mainly due to the proliferation of T20 leagues around the globe. "Hopefully Test Cricket still stays alive and well. I think it's in a good place at the moment. In terms of some of the games we've seen recently have been pretty amazing."
"So, for me as a traditionalist, someone that loves Test cricket, I hope it still remains at the front of all the board's mind and stays alive and well for some time to come. The World Test Championship now, having the two best teams play in a final, I think it's great."
"It adds a little bit more relevance I suppose to Test cricket. So it's what we all work towards for a couple of years. And this week should be an exciting one and the guys are looking forward to it."