Smith wants Australia to 'slow things down' under pressure

Australia's stand-in captain wants batters to take their time to avoid falling into the Indian spinners' trap

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Steven Smith was out lbw after missing a sweep, India vs Australia, 2nd Test, Delhi, 3rd day, February 19, 2023

Steven Smith was "pretty angry" after being out lbw trying to sweep  •  Getty Images

Steven Smith has admitted he had rarely felt the anger that he did at being dismissed sweeping against R Ashwin in Delhi during Australia's match-losing collapse. The emotion was exacerbated by the fact that he believed India were "on the ropes" after the visitors had made a rapid start to their second innings and he addressed the challenge of not allowing India's spinners to dictate terms.
The sweep is a shot that Smith rarely plays but he was one of six Australians to fall that way in the dramatic collapse and the personal recriminations started as soon as he was walking off the Kotla and then watched as the rest of his team-mates fell in a heap to leave India with an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the series.
"I've played 95 [94] Test matches…and I don't think there's been too many times I've walked off the field and I've gone, 'what the hell am I doing?' I was pretty angry," Smith said ahead of taking over the captaincy in Indore for the absent Pat Cummins. "There hasn't been too many times in my career where I've actually come off and just been bedazzled by what I've done. It wasn't my finest moment.
"It wasn't the way I wanted to play, particularly when I had the field set, for all of us actually, they had the field out. We probably just rushed things a little bit and it's something we'll talk about when we meet [on Wednesday]. When we've got them on the ropes, we can slow things down. We don't have to play at such a high tempo and risky tempo. Because we had them where we wanted them, we had men out and the ability to get off strike. We just rushed it."
Australia have had time to take stock in the longer gap until the third Test and are determined to learn from their mistakes of Nagpur and Delhi, particularly the way their batting was engulfed in both second innings when they were unable to find a way to stem the collapse.
That is not a problem only for Australia with many sides having been dismantled as Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja sense the opposition's panic and hurtle through their overs before batters have time to realise what is happening. One of the themes of the last few days has been now to take the sting out of the situation to avoid one or two wickets becoming a defining collapse, such as the 8 for 28 on the third morning in Delhi.
I know these conditions well. It's kind of like my second home playing over here, I've played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what the wickets are likely to do
Steven Smith
"It's not easy," Smith said. "That's the way they go. They know when they are on top of you, they'll try and rush you and play on their terms. For us, when we're under pressure it's about slowing it down as much as we can; maybe making them wait a little bit, walk away and regain your thoughts rather than just coming back and back. Certain things like that. And it will be different for everyone, the way they handle those moments. Think it's [about] finding that in our game and hopefully that applies a bit more pressure on them."
One of the problems is that batters are so vulnerable in their first 10 or 20 balls, particularly when Ashwin and Jadeja have their tails up, while Australia's lower order has been blown away in comparison to India's which has performed exceptionally in both Tests.
"I think starting your innings is as tough as anywhere in the world here in India," Smith said. "We know if you get in, you've got to make it count. There'll be odd times when you get a very good ball and get dismissed. I don't like the term, 'have one with your name on it' so much, you've got to try and take that out of your mind.
"I got 30 in the first Test, Marnus [Labuschagne] has got a few starts, guys haven't been able to go on and make a big total and two guys together getting that one partnership can make a difference. I think Pete [Handscomb] has been outstanding in both first innings and he's been left stranded. If he had someone to bat with, and we make the most of those first innings a little bit more as well, things could certainly be different."
For the third time since Cummins became captain, Smith is slipping into the role and there is every chance he will be doing so again in Ahmedabad next week. He is battling a flare up of a back problem caused by a degenerative disc he has had since 2010 but is confident of being able to manage the situation. The only thing it prevents him from doing is bowling and he did not believe it played a part in his dropped catches at slip during the series.
Smith's batting record does not need any qualifiers, but he averages 67.73 as captain compared to 55.33 without the leadership. That is comfortably the highest figure of anyone who has led their side at least 30 times.
"It normally brings the best out of me," he said. "I'm excited about leading this week in Pat's absence. I know these conditions well. It's kind of like my second home playing over here, I've played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what the wickets are likely to do. I'm looking forward to it."
But as has been evident in the last few weeks, knowing what is coming and playing it are proving to be two very different things.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo