An Australian Test team described as quiet? No, really.

Australia's captain Steven Smith has demanded his players find their voices and energy in the lead-up to the home summer, having pinpointed a flat and uninspiring on-field attitude as one of the reasons for the team's recent defeat in Sri Lanka.

There was a marked contrast between the lack of assertiveness shown during those matches after the second day of the series, and the more aggressive posture of the limited-overs teams that won 50-over and Twenty20 contests in the aftermath of the Tests.

Rested after the second ODI, Smith watched on television from his home in Sydney as the vice-captain David Warner led a far more demonstrative effort. Smith wants that to be the template for the way the Test players carry themselves in future, indicating that a more boisterous, aggressive attitude is critical to the way Australia play their best cricket.

"I thought his energy was magnificent throughout those games and looking forward that's the sort of energy we want from him and all of the other senior players," Smith said of Warner, in Sydney ahead of the ODI team's departure for South Africa, where they will also play a match against Ireland. "We've got a pretty quiet group and we need that sort of energy come South Africa and the summer as well. I thought in the Test series in Sri Lanka we lacked a fair bit of energy in the field and that probably cost us at times. We put down a few crucial chances and in the grand scheme of things that could have made a difference."

The raft of retirements that followed the 2015 Ashes series did serve to trip the national side of plenty of outsized characters, from the captain Michael Clarke and the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson - all featured in various on-field confrontations with opponents down the years. The likes of Peter Nevill, Adam Voges and Nathan Lyon are less likely to raise their voices, but Smith was firm in stating that they need to.

"It's difficult," he said. "We've got some pretty quiet characters, so even if it's not making noise verbally it might be just about having a bit more presence and the old Australian way of puffing your chest out and making your presence felt for the quieter guys. It's trying to do that, get into the game that way and try to provide some sort of energy that way."

Communication was raised in another sense by Smith, when reflecting on the decision to rest him from the latter part of the Sri Lanka tour. The timing was queried by many around the world, even if the game's crowded schedule makes such decisions more or less inevitable lest players like Smith or the fast bowlers be burned out well before their careers have run a natural course.

"For me it was just about getting the messaging across and I think we could have got the messaging across a fair bit better," Smith said. "We knew a fair way out that I was going to leave after the second one-day game. The fact we only brought it out the day before probably shocked a few people, so in future if this sort of thing pops up and someone's having a rest ... it's about getting it out a little bit earlier.

"I watched every ball that was bowled in the one-day series and I did miss it, but having said that it probably will do me the world of good looking at what's coming up. Particularly the fast bowlers, it's very difficult for them to sustain it for long periods of time and go full tilt, which we want those guys doing. Having said that, for this series it gives a couple of guys an opportunity, we get a look at the likes of Tremain, Worrall and Mennie."