It’s often said about a cricket team that it takes on the character of the captain. There’s now a determined defiance about this Australian team that was missing until Steve Smith delivered a stern rebuke after the Bellerive debacle when they capitulated to a relentless South African attack.
Following that ignominious defeat Smith said; “We didn’t have that fight and resilience in us.”
Well that has been one of the noticeable things about a rejuvenated Australian side in India; they have displayed a confidence and defiance that is a mirror image of their captain.
Smith was already a successful batting captain but on this tour of India he’s taken his play to another level. He’s made two centuries in three Tests and following his undefeated vigil in Ranchi, it’s apparent India’s bowlers are no closer to unlocking the secret to upending the Australian skipper.
Thirst for runs
India’s bowlers may have run out of ideas but Smith’s patience and thirst for runs is never ending.
Smith has reduced his mental errors to a minimum. He’s eradicated much of the risk from his play but he still puts away the bad or even slightly wayward delivery.
Such was India’s desperation in Ranchi that it looked less like a Test and more like a schoolyard romp between two 11-year-olds when Wriddhiman Saha piled on top of the Australian captain in an effort to extract the ball from between Smith’s legs.
Chosen a leggie?
Seeing Smith amass runs with the same ease Warren Buffett accumulates wealth, it’s hard to imagine he was first chosen for Australia as a leg-spinner who batted at eight. That may have been the selectors’ assessment at the time but his teammates are adamant he always wanted to be a batsman.
Those same teammates also say Smith hits more balls in practice than anyone. He looks like a self-made player, as he scurries back and across before the bowler delivers but his defence is water-tight and at the point of contact, everything is in position to inflict maximum damage.
It’s rare for such a successful player to expend so much effort hitting practice balls. Sachin Tendulkar was another of that ilk but it’s more common to hear a player (incorrectly) classed as a ‘natural’ when he enjoys great success.
Walters and Pollock
Two match winning batsmen from the past who adopted the opposite routine to Smith, were South Africa’s Graeme Pollock and Australia’s Doug Walters.
Pollock would religiously face 12 throw downs before each innings and Walters was diligent at an official net practice but in between those sessions the only thing he struck was a match to light up another cigarette.
Smith may be the backbone of Australia’s batting on this tour but he’s also focused on his players’ performance. He expertly shepherded Glenn Maxwell through his innings to help produce a substantial partnership and the effervescent allrounder’s first Test century.
The feature of Maxwell’s batting was the responsibility he displayed in contrast with his extravagant limited-overs stroke play. His emotional response to reaching three figures and the follow up hug for his captain said a lot about the spirit in this Australian team.
For the bulk of his marathon knock Smith’s counterpart Virat Kohli was missing with a damaged shoulder. Without Kohli’s inspiration the exasperation began to show on the bowlers’ faces, especially Ishant Sharma.
Kohli made a calculated move to prise the Australian captain out of his comfort zone in Bangalore and it worked. Smith suffered a rare dual failure and his team lost. Kohli’s strategy was successful, however, it’s time India found a way to unsettle Smith with their bowling tactics rather than a verbal assault.
Before the tour commenced, Smith was informed his team had no chance of succeeding. He’s proved those predictions wrong and in the process formed a squad that is confident and resilient and a far cry from the brittle side that was destroyed at Bellerive.
This Australian team has defied the odds and performed in a manner no one could have predicted. A bit like their skipper.