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Cold comfort from home after Smith's winning streak ends

Australia's Steve Smith watches the ball after he hit it for a six during their One Day International cricket match against India in Perth January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Bill Hatto/Files
Australia's Steve Smith watches the ball after he hit it for a six during their One Day International cricket match against India in Perth January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Bill Hatto/Files

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Steve Smith, now carrying the burden of leading Australia in all three formats, is feeling the heat from a disappointed home media after his first series loss as skipper.

The world's top-ranked test batsman and ICC Cricketer of the Year enjoyed a golden summer on home soil, leading the hosts to emphatic test series wins over New Zealand and West Indies, and victory in the one-day series over India.

But the accolades have dried up along with the captain's output of runs as Australia lost their one-day series away to New Zealand 2-1 with the 55-run thrashing in Hamilton on Monday.

"The honeymoon is over for Steve Smith," the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper declared on Wednesday.

"For the first time in the Australian captain's reign he is short of runs and presiding over a team that is not winning."

Like his team, which is top-ranked in one-day cricket and second in tests, Smith has become something of a victim of his own success, his prolific output of runs over the past two years setting the bar high for a demanding local media.

It was less than a month ago that Smith blasted a match-winning 149 to have the hosts overhaul India in the one-day series opener in Perth.

But the 26-year-old has managed only 90 runs from his past five innings and looked out of sorts against the swinging ball on New Zealand pitches.

Smith has hardly been alone in his struggles, with explosive all-rounder Glenn Maxwell sandwiching a six between two ducks against the Black Caps and George Bailey averaging 11.66.

But as an increasingly reliable barometer of Australia's fortunes on foreign pitches, Smith's dip in form is untimely ahead of the two-test series against New Zealand.

The last time the magic deserted Smith in the test arena was during the Ashes series in England.

Having struck a glorious 215 to guide Australia to victory at Lord's, Smith failed in both innings of the next two tests and the series was lost.

As in England, Smith's trade-mark shuffle across the crease has appeared less assured in New Zealand and prompted speculation that he might be feeling the pinch after a long summer.

His instalment as captain of the Twenty20 side in place of Aaron Finch a month before the World T20 has only added to his pile and the selectors' preference for one leader across all three formats was met with scepticism.

"He’s only new into the test captaincy really and captained a bit of one-day cricket here and there," former Australia captain Ricky Ponting told Melbourne radio station SEN.

"With T20, more than anything, you have to look a couple of overs ahead of the game.

"I think it’ll start catching up with him pretty quickly. It did with me, anyway."

The first test against New Zealand starts in Wellington on Friday.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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