What makes the stylish Australian cricket captain Steve Smith a true-blue Maratha at heart?

The skipper can tell South Indian from North Indian cuisine, and in his first fashion shoot in India, Steve Smith showcases the clothes of India’s youngest menswear designers too

brunch Updated: Jul 02, 2017 17:24 IST
Jamal Shaikh
Jamal Shaikh
Hindustan Times
Steve Smith,IPL,Fitbit
Australian cricket captain and Rising Pune Supergiant skipper Steve Smith togs up in clothes by India’s youngest menswear designers. Here he is wearing a Sahil Aneja ensemble and a Fitbit Blaze(Subi Samuel)

A few hours before the interview and shoot with cricketer Steve Smith, I’m worried. I’m not a cricket fan – I hope I don’t get lynched for saying that – and the interview I’ve watched of the Australian cricket captain Steve Smith with a senior journalist on TV, is discouraging. Sample this:

“What advice do you have for Virat Kohli?”

Steve Smith: “I have no advice for him.”

“How would this Indian team do if it came to play in Australia?”

Steve Smith: “It’s hard to say, really…”

As a result, the half an hour interview now clocks at 12 minutes, 25 seconds on YouTube.

To Steve Smith, Pune is a home away from home. Here he is wearing a T-shirt by Sahil Aneja and a Fitbit Charge 2 (Subi Samuel)

Our plan is to get Steve Smith to talk about his time in India; the joys and challenges of playing for the IPL and living and travelling through this diverse country of ours.How do players from other parts of the world feel when they must pledge their allegiance to a region of India…of this vast country that we Indians don’t know everything about? And, how do they enjoy living in a country like ours?We’re not a sports magazine, so we aren’t looking for statistics and trade techniques. We want Steve Smith to open up about representing an Indian side at the IPL. Smith led the Rising Pune Supergiant to a great final this season, losing to the Mumbai Indians by just one run! We want him to talk India: the young, talented Aussie’s discovery of the country and its culture, about the foods he likes, the cities he wants to visit, the girls he has encountered. We also have a bag full of trendy clothes by India’s youngest menswear designers that we needed Steve to model in front of the camera.

But how does one break a sportsman’s defence of giving clipped answers when handed a microphone?

This Instagram grab shows Steve Smith in traditional Maharashtrian attire. Ahead of the IPL, he had posted a video saying “Aapla team la support kara!”

Fortunately, we stumble upon a picture put up on Instagram by Indian Test Cricket vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. The photo shows Steve dressed in traditional Maratha attire, complete with a dhotar (dhoti) and pheta (turban). It is captioned: “What do you think of @stevesmith49’s new Puneri avatar? We are loving it!”

Then things get better. A video of Steve Smith mouthing Marathi lays the rest of our fears to rest. “C’mon Punekars,” he says. “Aaplya team la support kara!” (Translated: C’mon Punekars, let’s support our team!) We know what will move our man.

India on his plate

A natural in front of the camera, Steve could well have been a model ! Here Steve is wearing a shirt over a white T-shirt from Zara over his Diesel jeans (Subi Samuel)

On the day of the shoot at the ITC Maurya in New Delhi, Steve arrives on time and behaves like any 27-year-old will. The stand-offishness of the TV interview is nowhere in sight. To set the mood, we begin with the Maratha outfit. Steve warms up instantly: “Oh yes, it was very colourful, wasn’t it?” He laughs, almost shy. “Definitely a lot of variety in terms of style and patterns. Ajinkya is a friend and a proud Maharashtrian, who loves his Marathi attire. It was a memorable moment for me to wear that outfit.”

An Aussie who can pronounce the word ‘Maharashtrian’ and use Marathi in the same sentence can win any Mumbaikar’s heart in an instant. Steve has just done that.

“India is my home away from home. I even have favourite restaurants... and can tell the difference between North Indian cuisine and a South Indian preparation.”

As a non-Indian, what’s it like living in India for months together? I ask. India can be an overwhelming place; how does a sportsman get used to it all?“I love India, and I really enjoy being here for long periods while playing,” Steve begins, a bit press release-ish in his answer. “We come so often, it has almost become my home away from home. I even have favourite restaurants. The food’s a bit spicy for me, but I can certainly make out the difference between North Indian cuisine and a South Indian preparation. Outside, the temperature takes a toll on you, but the warmth of the people makes up for that.”

Steve wears a jacket by Abhishek Paatni, jeans by Diesel, shoes by Zara and a Fitbit Charge 2 (Subi Samuel)

Steve recalls the first time he came to India. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But the passion people have for the game of cricket makes it so enjoyable for a professional cricketer to be here. If asked to pick one thing I love about Indians, it’d have to be their enthusiasm for everything: cricket, movies and life in general. If I have friends visiting, I’d like to take them to a cricket match…you can’t see India through my eyes without experiencing the crowds and noise at a game. I’d also take them to Dharamsala, which is so picturesque…”

Puneri pride

Suddenly, Steve Smith does a double take. He has named Dharamsala, but this year, he’s brand ambassador for Pune. Quick on the uptake, he adds: “Dharamsala is beautiful, but I must be politically correct, and being a Rising Pune Supergiant, say Pune’s my favourite city in India!” But that’s not the only reason. “Honestly, my second innings 100 in Pune recently is something I rate as one of my best ever…and us going on to win that test match was fantastic!”

Steve then gives us a few words he’s picked up in Hindi (Aapse mil ke bahut achha laga; Jaldi karo!; Bahut badiya; Nahi, nahi!; thanda paani ...he spouts the lines, with their English translations, just in case we didn’t understand Hindi!), regrets he hasn’t watched a complete Bollywood movie yet, and confesses that shopping in India is something he knows little about… “My partner Dani (Danielle Willis) is usually over here with me, so I don’t usually have to buy gifts to take home. She really loves the shopping here, especially in Mumbai.”

“You can’t see India through my eyes without experiencing the crowds and noise at a cricket game”

All the banter has adequately readied the cricketing superstar for the photo shoot, and we think it’s time to bring out the clothes. Steve slips into them with ease, doesn’t smile unless prodded to, but looks stylish without much effort.

The TV host had referred to Steve Smith as a difficult man to “get out”, on the field and during an interview on camera. For the morning he spends with us though, Steve Smith proves to be a clotheshorse and shows how, if not a cricketer, he could well have been a fashion model!

Smith led the Rising Pune Supergiant to a great final this season at the Indian Premier League (Getty Images)

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From HT Brunch, July 2, 2017

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First Published: Jul 01, 2017 22:46 IST