Every Australian captaincy begins in a moment's realisation. Ian Chappell found out he had the job through a journalist's phone call to the Adelaide pub where he was eating lunch. Michael Clarke learned of his ascension when Cricket Australia officials met him at his Bondi apartment to tell him of the board's approval. And leadership dawned on Steven Smith when his mentor Brad Haddin gracefully gave way over a drink at the Playford Hotel, also in Adelaide, in the hours after a Test match victory.
As victories go, this was hard to top for emotion - Nathan Lyon and Australia running over the top of India in the last session of the first match after Phillip Hughes' death. On the final afternoon, Haddin had taken over from a badly hamstrung Michael Clarke, and done everything right. But when he, Smith and the CA Board director Mark Taylor got talking about what lay ahead, the wicketkeeper's eye was less on the present than the future.
"It was a really interesting conversation actually between myself, Brad and Mark Taylor at the time," Smith recalled when launching his book, The Journey, in Sydney. "We'd just won the Test in Adelaide, Michael was off getting scans and stuff I think. We were down at the bar at the Sebel in Adelaide and talking about what was next, the game in Brisbane. And Mark Taylor just said to Hadds - are you ready to captain? He said 'nah, I think Steve should do it'. I was like 'sorry!?'
"I had no idea. I was all spur of the moment sort of things. So Tubby (Taylor) said to Hadds 'are you sure, are you sure this is what you want'. He said 'absolutely. I think he's the right man to do it and it's a great opportunity for him, I'll be there to help him and things like that'. Tubby was like 'right, I'd better make a few calls to the board members and see if we can get this cleared'."
It was after Taylor went off to work the phones that the thoughts of captaincy settled on Smith, only a matter of months after he had not even been the third choice to lead the Australians in a warm-up match in the UAE - Chris Rogers led instead when Clarke and Haddin were off the field. He had even begun that same Australian summer as 12th man in the ODI team against South Africa. The blur continued the next day.
"I got a call from Rod Marsh the next morning, saying 'we've endorsed you as captain, we're still waiting on all the board to approve it and stuff but dare say it'll go through. So congratulations you're going to be the 45th Test captain'," Smith said. "That was quite amazing to hear those kind of things. Growing up as kid you just want to play cricket for Australia and have that dream, but to captain the side was quite amazing.
"Tubby presented me with [captain's] blazer [in Brisbane]. I'll never forget that. I didn't want to change too much at the time, I was just filling in for Michael. It was a great honour, and fortunate to have some experienced players around."
Since then, Smith's captaincy has gone through peaks and troughs, from briefly taking Australia to No. 1 in the world in early 2016, to a quintet of Test defeats against Sri Lanka and South Africa that led to the resignation of Marsh and numerous changes to the team. Smith's passionate public address in the wake of the fifth defeat in Hobart has been seen as a moment where he grew notably in stature as a leader.
"It's really important to do those things. I've dished out a few sprays after those losses," Smith said. "I think I said in my press conference in Hobart I was embarrassed ... really poor, unacceptable. I say these things to the boys when we meet afterwards, and they try and respond in the best way possible, to come out and not do those things again and perform as well as we can. It's part of my job to ensure I'm trying to get the boys better and form the right culture around the group."
As a batsman, Smith has long been critiqued for an idiosyncratic method, from his pronounced pre-movement across the crease to a series of fidgets between balls that actually serve to key him in for the next delivery. But he is aware of how the success he has enjoyed for much of the past few years can be fleeting.
"At times you go through patches where things don't feel right," Smith said. "Believe it or not I actually forget how to hold the bat sometimes. I come home and tell [my partner] Dani I forgot how to hold it today, it's a bit strange for someone who is meant to be one of the better batters around the world. I go through those challenges and have to overcome those things, you get advice from all different people, all your coaches and people in the team, but ultimately it is your career and you have to find the way to play for you.
"People say I go across my stumps a long way and 'aren't you just going to get out lbw', but I'll cop that, if I get out lbw I am actually happy, if I get out nicking outside off stump I am disappointed in myself. You need to be really patient and my technique is based around patience now, making the bowlers bowl where I want them to bowl. Quick bowlers are pretty impatient so they generally go into the areas you want pretty quickly."