MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Of all the players that file onto the lush turf at Adelaide Oval on the first day of the test series between Australia and India, Steve Smith may have the biggest spring in his step at the end of a pandemic-blighted year.
Along with opener David Warner, Smith missed India’s last tour in 2018/19 while serving a 12-month suspension for his part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal.
Australia lost the series 2-1, their first defeat to a touring Asian side, as their batting crumbled repeatedly in the face of Jasprit Bumrah and an outstanding Indian pace attack.
Smith, who amassed 687 runs the previous Ashes summer against England at a Bradman-esque average of 137.40, was a reluctant armchair viewer.
“I watched bits and pieces. It was difficult to obviously be sitting on the sideline and not be able to go out there and make a difference,” the 31-year-old said on Thursday.
“That was the toughest thing for me, knowing that I probably could have made a difference if I was out there.
“So that was hard, but look, I think it’s an exciting series coming up.”
If there were fears Smith might struggle to return to his best cricket after his suspension, the former captain crushed them during last year’s Ashes where his 774 runs topped the batting by a mile.
Defying jeering crowds, the career-defining series ensured Australia would retain the urn on English soil for the first time since 2001.
A fired-up Smith determined to make amends for missing out two years ago could have a similar impact against India.
Smith has been the South Asians’ nemesis since first setting eyes on them in test whites seven years ago.
Batting at number five, he scored 92 in his first innings against India in Mohali in 2013, and might have had a century but for a line-ball stumping decision.
In his nine tests against India since, Smith has racked up seven hundreds and averages 84.05.
Only West Indies have felt a greater wrath from his bat, with the fidgety genius averaging 165.66 in five tests against the Caribbeans.
Smith has already forewarned of a big summer ahead, smashing back-to-back 62-ball centuries off India’s bowlers to ensure Australia won the one-day series in the leadup.
Smith’s two-year leadership ban expired in March but Tim Paine remains Australia’s test captain, a popular choice for guiding the test side with dignity through the dark days that followed ‘Sandpaper-gate’.
Yet there is growing pressure on Australia’s cricket chiefs to lay out a succession plan that involves Smith regaining the captaincy when the time is ripe.
Until then, Smith is content just to call the shots against the world’s best bowlers.
“I go out there and do my job and that’s to try to score as many runs as I can, no matter who’s playing or what the circumstances are,” he said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford