Cricketers' diaries: Steven Smith - Runs, tons, wins and Border-Gavaskar Trophy
I never thought I’d be turning out for the Australian team in a Test match, let alone become the captain of one. To top it all off, the opposition was India – not to be taken lightly despite their recent troubles in the longer format of the game.
But when Michael Clarke’s hamstring and back flared up again, I found myself thrust into the hot seat. I figured either Shane Watson or Brad Haddin would be better leaders, but took the added responsibility as a challenge.
From the beginning, I was always clear that Clarke was the real leader of the Kangaroos and that I was keeping his seat warm. Nevertheless, I was ready to give the job my all, and that’s pretty much the way I’ve played during my career so far.
We were ready to take on the ODI world champions, and I wanted to carry on from that last game of the 2013 Ashes; it’s not every day that your typical brash young cricketer scores a maiden hundred in Tests now, isn’t it?
What unfolded then in the series was way beyond my wildest dreams. Never have I felt this good about my own performances on the field. It’s been one heck of a series despite a few hiccups along the way.
First Test, Adelaide
It’s never easy when you lose a very close friend and teammate just days before the start of a highly anticipated series. Phillip Hughes’s passing came as a shock – three days before his 26th birthday, and taking the field in the aftermath of this was definitely going to be tough.
David Warner and I probably had the hardest time dealing with it, because we were right there on the field when it happened. So, when the decision was made to push the Gabba Test back, it came as a bit of a relief. But it also made me and Warner more determined to do what we could for Hughes. As it transpired, we did exactly that – Warner blasted a magnificent hundred, while I warmed up with a fifty and stayed till stumps, having survived a torrid time out there.
Luckily for us, the Indian bowlers were all over the place on the second day. The rain nearly played spoilsport, but that didn’t stop Clarke (already battling a bad back) from putting his best foot forward. For my part, I went completely berserk, attacking the bowling, putting them off their lines and lengths. Virat Kohli, leading in MS Dhoni’s absence, must have felt rotten and bereft of ideas, but I wasn’t going to worry about him.
And in next to no time, I reached my fifth Test hundred, walked over to the place where the number 408 – Hughes’s Test cap number – was painted and just looked up into the sky. Gazing up at the clouds, with a tear at the corner of my eye, I said, “this one’s for you, mate.” We declared, sent the Indians in, and Nathan Lyon won us the game on the last day with his bag of tricks. I did feel a bit of panic at one point when Kohli was whacking our bowlers all over the park, but we were just too good for him to outmatch. I don’t quite believe in superstition, but you know, I felt that, somewhere up in the Heaven, Hughes was pushing us to win.
Second Test, Brisbane
Steve Smith, Australia’s 45th Test captain – it does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? 1-0 up in the series and all my mates on fire with both bat and ball, you’d expect captaincy to be a walk in the park. After all, India were pretty much down and out, so to speak, and we had our tails up.
The Gabba would bring us another win, and we were going to try out my New South Wales teammate Josh Hazlewood in the big league. Pace was our chief weapon in all our successes of late, so we would be able to make quick inroads into the rival line-up and secure our second win. Piece of cake, right?
Wrong. It all went downhill the moment we stepped out in the Brisbane heat. Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc left the field at various points due to cramps or, in Marsh’s case, injuries. Making matters worse was Murali Vijay’s sublime innings of 144 (I guess he’s more at home here due to growing up in Chennai’s extreme temperatures), dropped catches and misfields that resulted in India posting a 300-plus score on the first day itself. I was very disappointed after the play, to be honest.
We pulled things back a bit on Day Two – Hazlewood breathed fire to snag his maiden five-for in Tests. I stood like a rock, intent on ripping the bowling to shreds. The battle with Ravichandran Ashwin was even sweeter; being a spinner myself, I knew it wouldn’t do any good if I defend against him, so I turned on the aggression a bit more. It got me to my second century in the series, on the third day, but even I needed help in pulling that one off.
That’s when Mitchell Johnson stepped in. He counter-attacked with so much authority that it was almost scary to behold. Together, we wiped off the deficit and built a solid lead. We were in the driver’s seat by Day Four, and Johnson’s fiery spell on Day Five rounded off the win. 2-0!
Third Test, Melbourne
A win in my first game as captain was a memory to be cherished, but we still had two more matches left to be played. Boxing Day is a very special day for us, and playing on this day has almost always proved to be a blessing in more ways than one.
The MCG is a happy hunting ground for Chris Rogers, who has played here so many times for Victoria that it’s almost like it’s his own personal backyard. He and Watson made heroic fifties, but then they left the job half-done. It’s irritating, you know; how many times do I have to come in and get a move on so that the innings gets the momentum we need? Shaun Marsh and Joe Burns did hang around for a while, but it wasn’t until Haddin’s arrival that we pushed on.
Eventually, I got my third hundred of the series, but this was all the more significant because it was my first at the MCG – our version of Lord’s. However, the most unexpected performance from the bat came from an unlikely source: Ryan Harris. The guy packs a punch. He just kept hitting and hitting, even clouting a huge six over mid-wicket – a monstrous hit if I ever saw one. I’d have loved to have a maiden double century, but a rare bit of exhaustion caused me to fall eight short. Oh well – can’t have everything.
But 500-plus isn’t a safe score when you have Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane around. Those two literally toyed with our bowling attack – even Johnson wasn’t able to prise them out till late. It’s not every day that you manage to flummox an opposition captain, but that’s what those two did to me for four straight hours.
Shaun’s 99 in the second innings should have won the game for us, but then, I made the mistake of underestimating that magician Dhoni, who ensured that his side went home with a draw and then shocked the whole cricket world with his retirement. Not the best way to go out, mate.
Fourth Test, Sydney
It’s getting to be a lot boring these days. Another game, another Test century – my third in a row. Watson’s continued inability to convert his starts to bigger scores is really getting on my nerves now. All this trouble with injuries is starting to affect his game. Warner was his usual buccaneering self, making another triple-figure knock in the series. Hughes’s passing seems to have had an effect on him. Guess it runs only in southpaws, though.
I’m even more convinced that Kohli is not an Indian, given the way he’s fought hard to keep his team alive in these two matches. There’s got to be a bit of the Aussie way in his blood – never saw too many Indian cricketers dish out verbal volleys the way he does. He’s nearly matched me stroke for stroke, run for run, and his tenacity is outstanding. Maybe, I was just a bit better.
Vijay’s commanding assault on Lyon was astounding, to say the least. He’s also done well in this series, but cricket has to have a winner, and I’d rather it was Australia than the opposition. Still, despite everything, we got back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy back on Aussie shores; it’s spent a long time in India!
Disclaimer: This is not a real diary of Steven Smith and is only an imaginary account.