After Australia suffered utter humiliation in Hobart last November, where they became a national travesty, Steve Smith struck a despondent figure attempting to swat away probing questions from inquisitive journalists.
I was at the press conference that day and, truthfully, it didn’t feel like the press were vultures circling around a carcass. There was an air of despondency in the room and Smith, despite his youthful appearance, looked battered to a pulp; it was as if he had aged a decade overnight. After Smith forlornly walked off following his presser, even morose journos had some pathos for the crestfallen Australian captain, who was the leader of a team about to endure a pubic shaming.
The innards of the press conference room at Bellerive Oval were grey and had a cold ambience to it, which was befitting Hobart’s nefarious climate where the second Test against South Africa was blighted by wintry weather. The surrounds were also symbolic of Smith’s deteriorating mood and the dark clouds hovering over Australian cricket.
Australia was a laughing stock amid a “full-blown crisis” and an entire generation of fans had never seen their proud national team mired so badly in the mud. Some were already speculating that the looming tour of India could provide an early knockout to Smith’s fledgling leadership. Any way you spun it, the prognostications looked dire even for the most ardent Australian fan.
Fast forward three months and Australian cricket is unbelievably the toast of the cricket world after producing an unforgettable first Test win in Pune – arguably their best victory since the revered tour of the West Indies in 1995. At the heart of the win, Smith doggedly led from the front in a striking manner reminiscent of hallowed Australian modern captains Allan Border and Steve Waugh.
After the shambles of Hobart, Smith has been able to mould a new look team and it undeniably feels like he is putting a defining stamp on the young group. In many ways the remoulding of the team signalled a new dawn of his leadership and fresh blood inserted into the team essentially ceased previous skipper Michael Clarke’s hovering shadow.
Marked by his flowing blonde locks and playful grin, Smith has a youthful exterior in a notable juxtaposition to archetypal hardened images of Australian skippers in the Border/Waugh/Ponting mould. Truth be told, the youthfulness deceives because Smith is innately ruthless and uncompromising. In many ways, a template for his captaincy arc is Border, who doggedly guided the team out of the doldrums in the mid-1980s through sheer willpower.
Smith’s brilliant second innings century in Pune has been deservedly lauded and is set to be a defining century of a career that is becoming almost peerless. When Smith came out to bat after the early wicket of David Warner, he knew the job wasn’t complete despite Australia’s commanding position and sizeable lead.
Sure, Smith had a healthy dose of good fortune as the rattled Indians repeatedly grasped opportunities but he grinded India down and ensured their spirit was broken. Time will tell whether this victory is indeed a harbinger for a new Australian reign and if it will be regarded as the moment where Smith’s captaincy shifted gears and launched Australia into an era of domination.
Right now, it still feels slightly fantastical Australia’s stunning change of fortunes. The apparitions of that fateful gloomy Hobart day seem like an eternity ago. The innuendo over whether Warner would make a better captain have vanished into thin air.
Astoundingly, Australia feels closer to a renaissance than any time over the past decade. With Steve Smith in charge, Australian cricket is in safe hands and a return to the glory days appear imminent.
— Gerard Whateley (@GerardWhateley) March 3, 2017