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Warner and Smith in battle for No.6

By AAP .
4 July 2013 10:45AM EST

THE APPARENT two-way battle between David Warner and Steve Smith for the No.6 position in the Australian batting order shapes as the most crucial decision left for selectors ahead of next week's First Test.

The new regime led by Darren Lehmann has made some big calls in the past few days, namely to declare Shane Watson and Chris Rogers as openers for the series.

But choosing whether to give Warner a free pass back into the side or reward the form of Smith, will require some serious weighing up.

On one hand Warner is a game-breaker with three Test centuries and a truckload of self-belief behind him, even if he is set to be demoted to the middle order.

Also, Smith wasn't even originally in the Ashes squad.

But there are two reasons why playing the currently suspended Warner would appear a risk.

If he walks out to bat at Trent Bridge he wouldn't have had a hit in over a month, and before then he was out of form anyway.

And more importantly, is welcoming Warner straight back into the fold after punching England's Joe Root going to send the right message, to a repeat-offender, that his off-field behaviour is unacceptable?

Cricket Australia's argument would be that Warner has served his penance by being rubbed out for the Champions Trophy and two tour games.

That may be so, but while Warner has continued to slip up, Smith by contrast has made runs and been endorsed by national selector John Inverarity as having the makings of a future captain.

He made a superb 92 in India when thrown an opportunity, and on the Australia A tour he posted two big hundreds, one of them in a first-class fixture in seaming conditions against Ireland.

Smith continued to build momentum with a superb 68no in the Australians first innings against Worcestershire on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old smashed two sixes and 10 fours and was unstoppable driving through the covers.

"He batted beautifully this morning and he's been batting beautifully for the last month on the A tour," said teammate Jackson Bird of Smith's performance.

"He was really positive this morning ... he took the game away from them."

Smith's technique has improved greatly since his debut Ashes Tests in the Australian summer of 2010-11.

Whether it's come on enough to usurp a man who could be a smash hit opening his shoulders down the order remains to be seen.

But selectors are making a decision that could impact not just the team for the Ashes, but the future of two key individuals.

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