March 19, 2017

Australia are mirroring their captain's defiance

Steven Smith defied those who didn't give him a chance as a batsman. Now his team is doing the same on a tour no one thought they could compete in
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India's bowlers haven't found a way to restrict Steven Smith's fluency in this series © AFP

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 Steven Smith delivered a stern rebuke after the Hobart 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, one of the noticeable things about a rejuvenated Australian side in India has been how 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 has 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 him. They may have run out of ideas. Smith's patience and thirst for runs is never-ending.

Smith has reduced his mental errors to a minimum. He has 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.

Seeing Smith amass runs with the same ease with which Warren Buffett accumulates wealth, it's hard to imagine he was first chosen for Australia as a legspinner who batted at eight. That may have been the selectors' assessment at the time but his team-mates are adamant he always wanted to be a batsman.

Without Kohli's inspiration, the exasperation and frustration began to show on the bowlers' faces, especially that of Ishant Sharma

Those same team-mates 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 watertight, 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.

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 throwdowns 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 is 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 strokeplay. 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 Smith's marathon knock, his counterpart, Virat Kohli, was missing with an injured shoulder. Without Kohli's inspiration, the exasperation and frustration began to show on the bowlers' faces, especially that of Ishant Sharma.

Kohli made a calculated move to prise Smith 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, but it's time India found a way to unsettle Smith with their bowling tactics rather than with verbal assaults.

Before the tour commenced, Smith was informed his team had no chance of succeeding. He has 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.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

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  • Beertjie on March 28, 2017, 9:00 GMT

    Agree @Praspunter that Smith's team-mates have been a huge let-down at crucial points. I'd have taken a score-line of 1-3 if the batting had stood up better. Warner and Shaun Marsh were mostly big disappointments. Hoping Renshaw and Handscomb have learned a lot, but mostly that the selectors get better with their horses for courses picks.

  • engrahmad on March 28, 2017, 8:34 GMT

    Lets be honest he was the lone warrior from Aus.

  • PrasPunter on March 27, 2017, 16:08 GMT

    Well Poor Smith can't do every thing of his own. His team-mates have been a huge let-down at crucial points. Thought we did well to at-least keep the series alive till test 4, the score-line would still read 1-2.

  • 68704 on March 21, 2017, 11:06 GMT

    I think People dont realise the magnitude of what Smith has been doing. Winning a test after 4502 days in the subcontinent for instance. Also playing 250 overs in the subcontinent to eke out a draw for Australia is no less momentous. For far too long Australia have played their brand of cricket and been bowled out in 40 overs on earlier occasions. Of course I am sure Smith and his boys wont be satisfied with all that they have done so far and try to retain the Border Gavaskar trophy. I think Warner has been made to look slightly less threatening than he can be due to a couple of reasons least of which have been the wickets at Pune and Bengaluru. He is still capable of changing the state of the game in an hour and should be persisted with. All eyes on Dharmasala and lets hope the finale is as good as the first three tests. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • DR SIR LESLIE COLIN PATTERSON on March 21, 2017, 10:27 GMT

    Here's hoping this new committment to the task continues. The key has been the injection of youth. Youth brings a freshness, a willingness to learn and gives a sense of "long-termism" about a team. Far better to select a younger guy even if the younger guy is not quite as good as an older option, because the younger guy has time to iron out his weaknesses at the top level and be even better down ze track

  • Tumbarumbar on March 21, 2017, 7:22 GMT

    @cricsfan36572298. Your point about right handlers being turned into left handlers is completely wrong. The players themselves make that decision. In my case for example I do single handed tasks like throwing, writing and cutting food right handed but do all double handed tasks like using a bat, a hockey stick, an axe and a golf club left handed. I can do then all right handed but it feels more comfortable left handed.. Besides that Matt Hayden and Mike Hussey were both right handed lefties and Michael Clarke was a left handed rightie, all three could play spin. I'd suggest current Australian batsmen struggle with spin because the SCG, MCG and Adelaide oval no longer spin very much. At one stage NSW picked four spinners for games at the SCG, now they pick one.

  • ModernUmpiresPlz on March 21, 2017, 4:59 GMT

    @cricfan36572298 I think Wade could use some more coaching. Or just drop him already. If catches win matches his selection means we're trying to lose, right?

  • Sexysteven on March 20, 2017, 23:36 GMT

    I knew if the Aussies put away there egos and took a different approach on these wickets they would be competitive these tracks ain't roads like they are in oz so u just can't play all the shots in the book u got to be smarter in India that's where Warner has been found out to be aflat track bully his stats are over inflated cos he scores all of his runs on roads he's good enough to be better then that but unlike smith Warner is to stubborn to change his game to suit the conditions that he's playing in and until he does that Warner appears to be overrated unlike smith where he's proving people wrong not to dissimilar to shiv chanderpaul not quite as extreme as him but along similiar lines so I'm now prepared to say smith is the real deal but Warner on the other hand atm is a fake one demensional player who cant adjust not yet at least

  • cricfan36572298 on March 20, 2017, 22:19 GMT

    Two guys with homespun techniques are leading the Australian fightback. Over coaching of Australian youngsters, in particular the switching of right handers to bat left handed (Warner, Khawaja, Renshaw, Head, Wade?, Hazlewood, etc) has led to exposing them to the rough and turning off spin bowlers into weapons. The three best performers (Smith, Maxwell and Handscomb) were all right handed.

  • PrasPunter on March 20, 2017, 18:29 GMT

    @Sanj747 , fortunately Aus have escaped with a draw. In the past, teams that did so have managed to win the next games most of the time - SA - Perth 2012 after Adelaide, Eng - Lords 2009 after Cardiff, India - Nottingham 2007 after Lords etc., Hope Aus adds to this list of winners.

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