'No doubt in my mind that Steve will be the next captain'
Steven Smith and Shane Watson recently played starring roles in Australia's fifth World Cup win. While Smith has been in supreme batting form across formats in recent months, Watson appears to have left his injury woes behind. In this freewheeling interview the pair speaks about memories of the World Cup triumph, playing together at Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, and the upcoming challenge of winning their first Ashes series in England in a decade.
Shane, it has been a good start to this IPL campaign for Rajasthan Royals; five wins out of seven, it's just where you want to be?
Watson: Absolutely, it has been a great start; lost a little bit of momentum in the last two games. To be in this position halfway through the tournament is a great place to be.
Last year when you came to the IPL, you were one of the most promising names in world cricket. Today Steven Smith is a superstar in world cricket. How has the journey been this last year, Steven?
Smith: I've enjoyed my cricket this year, that's for sure. I've enjoyed being a part of the Royals. It's a great culture here. We've started this tournament very well, [but] we haven't probably played our best cricket yet, which is nice to see. Hopefully we can continue to put good performances on the board and play our best cricket come the business end of the tournament.
From the outside, it appears to be a really tight unit. Will it be right to say that the guys get along well with each other?
Smith: It's a great culture. [Captain] Shane and [coach] Paddy Upton have created a great culture here and everyone gets along with everyone. We're really working hard for each other and, hopefully, we can have a good end to the season.
Feels very comfortable to come back and play for Rajasthan every year?
Watson: It's one of the best times of the year for me. I've got some incredible memories with Rajasthan where we went all the way through. It's great fun to be involved with such a franchise, great friends. I just love to come back and help the team perform as well. I know how much it means to the guys and also to the owners who have been incredibly good to the franchise all the way through. I've been fairly lucky to be at the Royals and can hopefully continue to be a part of the Royals for a fair bit longer.
Has it been a little disappointing to not make the finals after the first season?
Watson: The first year was a perfect start coming together. What Shane Warne did with the team we had was incredible. The coaching staff bringing the team together so quickly was our biggest advantage because it was so new and everyone didn't really know what to expect in the first year of the IPL. But since then we certainly aren't one of the biggest franchises financially. Some of the other teams spend all their salary caps but in the end it's part of the evolution of our group to give an opportunity to people, like myself in the first year, to impress, and to get guys in and around our group because we know they really want to get the best out of themselves. We had a good year a couple of years ago when we made the Champions League, and this year it feels very special as well. The depth in our squad has been as good as it ever has been.
How tough is the IPL in terms of playing day in and day out with all the extra travelling?
Smith: I think it is a very tough tournament to win. I think all the franchises, on their day, can beat anyone. If someone has a good day out, they can really get on top of you. I've learnt so much out of it, particularly pacing my innings in the limited-overs game. It has really been good for me in that aspect.
What has clicked for you in these last few months, where your weight of runs has been incredible?
Smith: For me, it's just about preparation - making sure I'm doing the same things over and over again, and trying to keep my routines as simple and as basic as I can. That's one thing, my patience when I go out to bat. I know each day is a new day and I'm trying to start my innings the same way each time and build an innings. I think in the past I've been a little bit guilty of going too hard too early. I try to get myself in now and give myself a chance by having a look at the conditions.
What has been like watching it all from the dressing room, Shane? Does it become a little bit boring?
Watson: I wouldn't say boring. It has been a pleasure to watch Steve bat the way he has, not only in the ground but also the way he has batted in the nets and taken on our quicks in the nets. It's very special to watch. I've been very lucky to be around guys at their absolute best, whether it was Ricky Ponting or Matthew Hayden. To be able to see Steve Smith where he has been for a while now is incredible to watch. Someone who has been in total control of his game against world-class bowlers is very special, and we would hope that he continues to bat the way he is so that Australia can have a lot of success over the next couple of years.
Does it concern you, Steven, when people say that your unconventional approach may create difficulties for you when you are not in good form?
Smith: I don't think the way I bat is unconventional. It's just other people's opinions, but, for me, it's about knowing your game. I've learnt a lot over the past 12-18 months about my game, and my strengths and weaknesses. It's just about playing to my strengths as much as I can and it's worked pretty well for me what I've been doing.
Is the World Cup win one of the most special things you guys have accomplished as a playing unit? Both of you were batting when the winning runs were scored.
Watson: It's the most special thing for me. It was a dream to win the World Cup on home soil. The way the treadmill of cricket is we haven't had much time to soak it up as within a week we were here playing the IPL. That's just the landscape of world cricket nowadays. For me, winning the Ashes series at home is the most amazing thing, and I was lucky to be a part of the team that won the 2007 World Cup. The team we had back then had outrageous talent and I was a young guy in that team. But this time, being a more senior guy in the World Cup squad, and then for us to play the way we did all the way through, and the brand of cricket we played to come together at the MCG in front of 90,000 people, and then walking in front of those people after winning was incredible.
Can you describe the feeling you had when you hit the winning runs in front of that MCG crowd?
Smith: It was just a magical moment to be out there with Shane and score the winning runs in the World Cup at the MCG in front of 90,000 people. It was an amazing feeling and one that I'll never forget. We played terrific cricket the whole way through. We had a little hiccup against New Zealand in New Zealand, but that made us up for the challenge a little bit more. I thought if we played on home soil, we'll have an advantage over them in the final and it turned out that way in the end. The support we got from the Australian public was unbelievable. To be involved in a World Cup win in Australia is a dream come true.
Do you remember saying something to each other after the winning runs were scored?
Watson: I don't know whether anything was said other than big embraces. It's more an unconscious state. You're not really conscious at that moment. It's just the elation and emotion that pours out of you at that moment. The thing I remember is the team running out on the field and it was just an incredible moment with everyone from the team being there. I just came out there with a couple of runs to go and was certainly not going to play a big shot at that time to score the winning runs. I was just happy to be out there at the end and with Steve scoring the winning runs it worked out nicely. It was very fitting for him after the summer he had and the amazing World Cup he had.
How much are you looking at captaining Australia on a regular basis?
Smith: We'll see how that goes in the future. It's not my job to decide who is going to be the captain. I've had some good experiences and really enjoyed captaining the team in Michael [Clarke's] absence in the summer against India. It was a great learning experience for me to have senior players like Shane and Brad Haddin around the group to bounce ideas off. Shane was very supportive throughout the home series and to have him and Hadds next to me while I was standing at second slip, and to have that wealth of experience beside me, was really beneficial for me at the start, and I really enjoyed the experience of captaining Australia.
Are we talking to the next full-time Australian one-day and Test captain, Shane?
Watson: Absolutely, no doubt about that. He did a great job when he took over during the summer and he just reads the game incredibly well. He's also got a great feel for the team environment and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be the next captain when the opportunity arises. For a young guy, he has had a lot of experience, be it as the captain of New South Wales or around other teams that he has been involved in as well. Australia would be crazy not to make the most of someone who has at a young age got the leadership skills already and is only going to get better.
Do you think Clarke's relationship with other players has been focused on too much by the media, or is it just part and parcel of the game when you play for that long?
Watson: When you spend so much time like I and Michael have in the team, generally you have your ups and downs. Some days I don't even get along with Steve either (laughs). When specific parts of media are trying to look into and find things to be able to write about, they look at certain avenues to get a story.
From my perspective, in the end we wouldn't have been able to achieve the things we have as a team if there were things going on in the group that were fracturing the whole group. We wouldn't have been able to play the way we have over the last 18 months if there was too much going on within the group. I've been involved in teams before where that just breaks down the team. I actually think that things are going all right at the moment. Everyone's loving every moment of playing in and around the Australian team. I think that's a pretty good sign of where we are at.
How much do you enjoy working with Clarke, Steve?
Smith: I think Michael has been a terrific captain for a long period of time now. He reads the game better than anyone that's playing at the moment. He's tactically very good and he's a terrific player. It's been great to have him around and learn some of his strategies and the way he goes about things in training and on the field. It's been great to be able to watch and develop.
Australia has not won an Ashes series in England now for a decade. You think this team can do differently?
Watson: I've got no doubt. We've got a very strong squad that's going over to England. We've got good depth and the best part is everyone is in nearly career-best form right now, which is most important as well. There is a huge hunger within the group because we know that we haven't won in England for the last three series. I've been involved in two of those. There's a big burning desire to be involved in an Ashes-winning campaign in England. We're as well prepared as we can be within our group. I'm incredibly excited about what's on the horizon with the Ashes and everyone else is as well. There's still a little bit of time with the IPL and the West Indies tour, but it's going to be a very exciting time.
Steven, five hundreds in five Tests in the Ashes will be good after four in four against India?
Smith: Would be nice, wouldn't it? I can't wait to get over there and play another Ashes against England in their conditions after beating them so convincingly in Australia. It's going to be nice to go in their backyard. If we continue to play the way we have been playing over the last 12-18 months, I don't think that they'll come close to us, to be honest.
Have you settled on what your goals are for your career?
Smith: Not really. I'm just happy with the way things are at the moment. I don't like looking too far ahead. I like living in the present as much as I can and enjoying each moment.
Looking forward to a few more years in the game, Shane, doing everything that you do?
Watson: I still absolutely love playing the game of cricket and I love being in and around the Australian cricket team. It has been a very special time to have been in the team. The most important thing for me is to able to contribute with bat and ball, which I have not done consistently over the last 12-18 months. I still feel I have my best cricket in front of me with all the experience I have. I still feel fresh in my body and know how to get the best out of it. I'm excited to be able to play the game that I love so much and hopefully can continue for a little while longer.
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75