A renewed Steven Smith has reflected on how mental fatigue led him to making "horrible decisions" in the aftermath of last summer's Ashes series, culminating in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal that saw him banned from the game for a year.
On his return to competitive cricket in Global T20 Canada, Smith said he had been on a journey of many emotions since he was stripped of the Australian captaincy and banned for a year by Cricket Australia. After contributing a quickfire half century to the Toronto National's successful chase in the opening match, Smith said that while he had been hurt by his inability to help Australian teammates on their losing tour of England, the Canadian sojourn formed part of his "rehab" from the brokenness he experienced in the wake of Cape Town.
"I've been up and down with my emotions if I'm being honest," Smith said in Toronto. "I've had times, particularly watching the boys play in England, and not play as well as they could have and England play extremely well, it was hurting me that I couldn't go out and help them, help them win games.
"And when they hopped on the plane to go over there I had some emotions that were a bit down. It's been tough but, you know, I think I needed a break if that makes sense. It's obviously come under some ordinary circumstances but I was really mentally fatigued after the Ashes. I put so much work into the Ashes, and I think back to the one-day games after the Ashes and I don't think I've ever hit the ball that bad in my life.
"I was making horrible decisions and I just felt horrible at the crease. I think it all comes down to the mental part of the game and I put so much into the Ashes that it took so much out of me. A bit of a break perhaps isn't the worst thing. Hopefully I'll be able to come back and perform at a really high level gain, but we'll see what happens."
The first innings back showed signs of some rough edges, but by the end Smith was contributing fruitfully to his team's victory while returning to the batting crease he described as a "haven", away from all other distractions. "I normally don't get real nervous before I play but I'll be real honest, I was a bit nervous today," he said.
"You know, three months off and I haven't hit that many balls back home, I've had a couple of nets but I haven't had a hit on turf. A hit indoors yesterday and it felt pretty good and had a bit of luck today and I didn't feel as good as I probably ever had, but it's nice to score some runs when you're not feeling good. Hopefully some positive signs."
Smith credited his manager Warren Craig, his fiancée Dani Willis, his father Peter and a close circle of friends for helping him through the past three months. "That's made a big difference to me," Smith said. "They know I absolutely love this game, and all I've ever wanted to be is a cricketer and I think they'd just be happy to see me back playing the game and it was fortunate to score some runs in my first game back, I didn't feel as good as I would've liked, but it's nice to score runs when you're not feeling good.
"I know all the people back home would be really proud of me playing here for the reasons I'm here as well. So it's nice to be out in the middle. The last couple of months having some time off, I've been fortunate to do some really good work with Gotcha For Life and Gus Worland, talking about the mental health space and manning up and being vulnerable. Sometimes it's okay to not be okay and things like that.
"It's been quite therapeutic for myself, but also I think a lot of the kids at the schools that I've gone to, I know we've made a big difference so far and that's made me feel good in a way, and I'm going to do a lot more of that work when I get back home. I've been fortunate I've had the close people to me to get through what was a pretty difficult time in my life."
As for Smith's plans between now and the end of his ban in March next year, he emphasised a desire to spend time at his home cricket club Sutherland in Sydney's grade competition, and also looked forward to marrying Danni. "People have asked me if I'm going to play a lot of tournaments around the world while I'm suspended from international cricket and I'm going to play this one and go from there," Smith said.
"I know I'm going to go back and I want to try to make a difference at Sutherland, Shane Watson's going to be playing there so it'll be great to reunite with him. I'm getting married back home as well, so I do have a lot to look forward to, but we'll see. If I'm playing in other tournaments there's every chance it'll be later on, probably next year.
"I'm not going to lie, it's been a difficult time in my life there's no doubt about that. But I've accepted my punishment, accepted what I've gone through and I'm moving forward. Part of my rehab is playing cricket as well. That's what I love doing and I want to help Toronto Nationals win this tournament, and most importantly have a good time. That's what [Toronto captain] Darren Sammy's been relaying to us, let's go out and enjoy it and have fun and play some good solid cricket."