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The long break and the premiership quarter

Steven Smith is confident of beating India at their own game after assessing the Ranchi pitch might not offer too much bounce AFP

Steven Smith stood amid the swirling controversy, the dark insinuations, the almost-accusations.

Only halfway through the tour and the series was level - one emphatic win by Australia and one loss in a swerving, see-sawing contest. They would have bitten a hand, an arm, a shoulder off if that ledger had been offered to them before leaving home.

Only halfway through the tour and there had been more 'gates' than you would expect breaking out of a high-security prison; Pitchgate, DRSgate, Gategate. Gate, gate, gate.

The players needed a gate break. Some stayed in the confines of their luxury Bengaluru hotel while others escaped the tour bubble for less intense surroundings.

Smith stood amidst the swirling controversy, the dark insinuations, the almost-accusations. And then he visited a bat factory.

Perhaps it said much about Smith's immersive obsession with every aspect of cricket that he would spend precious and rare time off this way. But it was also pragmatic. Smith took one of his favourite bats to the BDM factory, where his sponsored bats and kit were made, to see if it could be replicated and also to have a greater understanding of how the tools of his trade were created.

It was the gloves that made the biggest impression. Two-hundred and fifty white, black and fluorescent yellow pieces were carefully laid out on a white tablecloth, waiting to be assembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Painstakingly stitched by hand, each pair took a full day's work to complete. Smith joked that from now on he would feel guilty when asking for new ones while batting.

Just as meticulously as the glove-maker, Smith and his men have been laying out their own pieces of a puzzle; every detail planned, each individual piece laid out from Australia to Dubai to India, ready to be assembled into a whole that might achieve what many thought to be the impossible: winning a Test series here.

To mangle a cliché, this has been a tour of two halves. A dramatic and frenetic opening two stanzas, an intermission as the eye of the hurricane brought respite, and now the final two acts to decide the fate of heroes and villains - depending on which side you support.

Australian Rules football, or AFL, has a similar symmetry to this series: two quarters, separated by a brief recess, followed by a 20-minute half time - otherwise known as the long break - before the final two quarters.

"It's good to have a little break," Smith said. "We've been talking here about playing on AFL sort of terms and we're at halftime now throughout this series. Going into the premiership quarter I guess in the next game, [as] they say."

Smith's reference to the Ranchi Test being the premiership quarter has its significance; it is in the third quarter that many AFL games are won, when one side often asserts its dominance, pulls away from the opposition and puts the result beyond doubt. As in Bengaluru, Australia need just one more victory to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It may just depend on how they regroup after the long break.

Smith played down the notion of this being his most important Test of his still young captaincy: "I'm not thinking about it that way," he said. "For me it's about not thinking about the results too much and just making sure our processes are still in the right space.

"We've played some pretty good cricket so far in this series, for us it's about making sure we go out there and do the same things we've talked about."

It is also about all of those little pieces that make up the 3D jigsaw. Some have been forcibly removed and losing Mitchell Starc is akin to losing the entire thumb of the glove. Pat Cummins, despite his injury-induced dearth of first class cricket, has done much to impress his captain. His cutters at training "were actually ragging" and he looks the likeliest candidate as replacement thumb, despite the forebodings of a low and slow pitch.

The Australians' reading of the pitch, which may as well have been written in Sanskrit for all the clarity it provided Smith, will decide the remaining pieces. He expects there won't be a great deal of bounce and that the ball will "shoot quite low" and spin as the game progresses. But beyond that, he admits, he's not sure how it will play.

The victory in Pune, however, has given Australia belief that all their preparation, all the elements laid out for months, or flown in at the eleventh hour, can be stitched together to bring success; that they can beat India at their own game, by using their own strengths.

"It's possible," Smith said. "I think so far throughout this series, our batters have played their spinners better than their batters have played our spinners. So if it's a game of spin versus batters, and the quicks aren't in there quite as much - I certainly think it brings us to an even playing field."

The eye of the hurricane has passed. The third act, the premiership quarter, has arrived.