Indore: Steve Smith loves captaining in India and likens it to a game of chess, pushing one to stay a step ahead of the match.
Smith, who filled in for full-time captain Pat Cummins while he was attending to his ailing mother back home, led Australia to a memorable nine-wicket win in the third Test against India here Friday.
Australia’s batting mainstay, who was their skipper in the previous tour back in 2017, also prefers playing on spin-friendly tracks rather than placid wickets that takes the game to full five days.
Reflecting on the win in the most challenging of circumstances, Smith said he could not be more proud of his team, which fought back after losing the first two Tests inside three days.
“They are pretty hard to come by. For us to get on top in this game particularly after losing the toss, it shows the talent in our group and the belief we have got in ourselves.
“We screwed it up in Delhi, letting that slip, but we had a good break and good preparation coming here.
“It was about getting our mental state right. It was about trusting ourselves and our methods. It was about having faith that we will succeed and taking the result out of play.
“We are pleased to have qualified for the final of the World Test Championship, which has obviously been on our radar for a little while. To tick that off is worth celebrating for this team,” said Smith after Australia won their first Test in India in six years.
Smith is among the shrewdest thinkers of the game and that shows in his decision making on the field. In Cummins’ absence, Smith said he has done his bit and relished the responsibility.
“No, my time is done. It’s Paddy’s (Pat Cummins) team now. I’m glad I’m able to stand in this week in the circumstances obviously with Paddy going home. Our thoughts are still with him back home as well.
“Look, India is a part of the world I love captaining. It’s a game of chess, every ball means something. It’s good fun moving people and trying to make the batter think and something different and just playing games with them. It’s probably my favourite place in the world to captain.”
Captaining back home is much easier, he said.
“You think back home in Australia, you generally play with a third slip or putting a square leg up or back or pulling a third slip to cover… There’s not much that goes on, you sort of stick to the same game plan and trust what you are trying to do there.
“In this part of the world, you have to be very proactive. Every ball is an event and that ball can dictate what happens the ball after. Something that I really love. I thought I did it well this week and it was good fun,” he said.
Prefer to play on these wickets than flat tracks
Pitches have become a subject of intense debate in the four-match series with former players criticising the rank turner at Holkar Stadium. However, Smith is not perturbed by that and loves the challenge.
“All the wickets have spun, haven’t they? We haven’t got three days yet. That shows there has been spin from day one in all Tests. I prefer to play on these wickets than a genuine flat one that goes five days and… It can be boring in stages.
“There’s always something happening on these wickets. You got to really work hard for your runs but guys have shown they can do it. Usman in the first innings, Pujara, Rohit in Nagpur, Axar throughout, Handscomb… So guys can do it and you also need some luck.
“With this one, yeah, whether it might have been a little bit too extreme potentially from the first ball, I’m not entirely sure but it was still an enjoyable Test,” said Smith, referring to the Indore pitch.
Break came at a good time for us
After self-destructing in Delhi from a position of strength, Australia got a 10-day break before the third Test. While some went on a short break, the others stayed back in Delhi.
“I think the break came at a good time for us. We were obviously disappointed with the way things ended in the last game where we had our opportunities, especially knowing then that we can’t actually win the series considering it’s been in the bucket list of the few of the guys.
“So, yeah, for the guys to be able to regroup, trust themselves in what they wanted to do and do it for longer, that’s something we have spoken about.
“Guys already had their plans in place. It was just about sticking to them for longer, really. That’s what the guys had been practicing. We went away from it a little bit in the last game and parts of the first game probably.
“For the guys to just double down and continue to have faith in what we are trying to do and how we are trying to play was pleasing,” he said.
The excessive use of sweep had let the team down in the second Test.
Styles of play in India and Pakistan are very different
Australia toured Pakistan for the first time in 24 years and ended up winning the three-Test series 1-0. The flat wickets came in for harsh criticism during the series last year. Smith said playing in India and Pakistan is a different ball game.
“The styles of play here and in Pakistan are very different. Pakistan didn’t really spin much. You had to play the waiting game a lot in Pakistan. In India, you have to be ahead of the game, think on your feet and make changes constantly to try and make things happen.
“I spoke to the spinners on the morning of Day 1 that they have to take our egos out of play. For them, the pitch is spinning and they want to be bowling.
“But we have got three of you. If I take you off, it doesn’t mean you are bowling badly.
“It’s just that someone else may be able to do a better job at that point of time. When you have got three spinners, you have to work them that way and keep them as fresh as possible. I was pleased with the way I handled that,” added Smith.
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