The pitch was bog standard, which must have puzzled Khawaja, a former Derbyshire player who would remember only green seamers. You can draw your own conclusions.
This was skeletal Derbyshire versus apathetic Australia in a stocking filler of a match. The counties say they need these fixtures as money-spinners, but they try to get something for nothing. They want Australia to take them seriously while they take a smoko. What reciprocal obligation that imposes on Australia is debatable.
The crowd was a couple of thousand strong, mostly older, indeed elderly, holding tight to their scorecards and their memories. God bless ‘em, but you would have to say that they scarcely represented a cross-section of modern England. There were kids, but out the back, indifferent to the billed cricket, blithely playing their own.
As an experience, it was soothing and pleasant. As a spectacle, it was quaint, a tourist attraction like the changing of the guards. As a cricket event, it was dated. Khawaja, Marcus Harris and Mitch Marsh engaged on these humble terms, all making trouble-free half-centuries and the only worry was that none proceeded to the hundred that was there for the taking.
By the time Smith came in, the spinners were on. He desperately needed a hit, not a giggle. After a restless three-quarters of an hour, he slogged a catch to the deep from the leg-spinner. It might be said that both bowler and batsman had achieved their purpose. It might also be denied. But it was definitively not the shot of a man who could have batted all day against this attack if he chose, and thought it worth anyone’s while, and not a shot he will play in next week’s Fourth Test.
Almost without breaking stride, Smith marched to the nets, trailed by several hundred curious fans. There, he toiled for an hour – two pairs of gloves worth – while David Warner and assistant Australian coach Sridharan Sriram, a one-time Indian international, whizzed new balls at him using woomera-like devices called side-arms, familiar to dog walkers, delivering from 18 metres. It was better approximation of the English attack Smith will face next week at Old Trafford than offered by Derbyshire, whose bowling was more Jeffrey Archer than Jofra.
At length, Warner uprooted Smith’s orange off-stump, the net-watchers cheered and Warner responded with a bow. The Australians shared a laugh. The locals might think they were having a laugh, an English idiom for taking the p… But they laughed anyway. Whether higher authority is so amused remains to be seen.