Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here
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"What does Steve Smith do, exactly?"
This question, having lingered over Australian cricket for several summers, appears finally to have been answered by the man himself.
As he prepared to begin the domestic season with New South Wales against Western Australia in Perth on Sunday, Smith stated plainly that he now considers himself a batsman, intent on promotion in the Blues' order and earning a place in the top six for Australia.
Across five Tests, 32 ODIs and 20 Twenty20 matches for his country, Smith's role has appeared hazy, even the subject of derision from opponents. He has been the lead spinner, an allrounder, a top six batsman then an allrounder again, all the time seeming to flounder without the "role clarity" Australia's coach Mickey Arthur is so often seeking.
On this year's ODI tour of England, Smith made scores of 8 and 21 while bowling two overs, seeming more spare part than central component. Having also been taken to the UAE for the ODI series against Pakistan, 23-year-old Smith is aware he is close to the Australian team, and now appears to know that it is runs not wickets, that will keep him there.
"Runs is my main priority at the moment, I'm working really hard on my batting," Smith said. "I believe to get back into the team it's through my batting, with my bowling there as well. But I think my batting it's just getting the runs on the board and getting those runs is going to be crucial for me.
"For me at the moment it's me focusing on my batting, I think that's what's going to get me there in the near future. I've always got my spin bowling to add to my bow, and if I keep working on that as well it just gives them another option if they need it."
On the subject of where he would like to bat in the future, Smith said he wanted to move higher up than the No. 6 spot he has occasionally occupied for Australia. His place in the batting order was the cause of some conjecture among the selectors and Australia's captain Ricky Ponting during the 2010-11 Ashes, when Smith spent two matches at six then went down to No. 7 for the final match in Sydney.
"I'd like to bat higher [then No. 6], I'm trying to bat as high as I can in this order," Smith said. "I think the higher you can bat in your Shield team, if you're doing well there the better off you're going to be for batting anywhere in the Test line-up or any of the line-ups. So that's my main goal at the moment, to go out and score a lot of runs and hopefully contribute for NSW.
"I ended last season pretty well with a few runs on some tough wickets, a couple of hundreds would've been nice, but runs are always good, and putting NSW in good positions this season is what I'm looking for as well. Hopefully we can do that, get a couple of early wins away and kick off that way."
The Blues begin their campaign with a visit to WA, the scene of a humiliating innings defeat last summer, when they were bowled out for 91 on day one then watched Liam Davis peel off a triple century. Smith took part in the match, and said the chance to return to the scene of the hiding was a welcome one.
"It was a pretty average game for us, a lot of boys sat down together after that game," he said. "Playing in Perth's obviously a little bit different to playing over here. This time we've got to have some clear goals and clear plans for particularly batting and to be able to get through the new ball and on the wicket with a bit more bounce it's going to be crucial to have good plans in place and stick with them the whole way through."
In their efforts to improve on last summer's poor showing, NSW will be helped by the presence of Australia's captain Michael Clarke for their opening three fixtures. "Michael's an unbelievable player and a good person to have around," Smith said. "If blokes can do well as well he can see that being a selector and it's always good to put your hand up in front of the Australian captain."