Look out India: Big-time Smith wants redemption
An unhappy watcher of India's 2018-19 series defeat of Australia while serving a ball-tampering ban, Steve Smith is out for revenge - and, if you listen to star fast bowlers Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, the Indians should be very worried.
The last time India toured Australia, Steve Smith could barely bring himself to watch.
Suspended and banished from the game, the world's best batsman learnt the hard way that he wasn't born to be a spectator.
Now after another year largely spent in a COVID-19 induced wilderness, Smith's insatiable desire to always be the one in the middle of the bullring is once again driving him to seek revenge against India this summer and put an exclamation mark on his extraordinary cricketing comeback.
"I'd like to think I step up in big moments and try and be at my best against the best opponents and when the pressure is really on," Smith said.
I hold myself to pretty high standards with that.
Smith's overall numbers are astounding, but when broken down, it's his performances on the big stages against England and India that really stand out.
In 10 Tests against India, Smith has seven hundreds and an average of 84. He has played a disproportionately higher 27 matches against England, for 11 hundreds and a Test average of 65.
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While New Zealand and Pakistan were able to turn the screws against Smith last summer, South Africa have held their own, and even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have managed to keep him under wraps - it's when it really matters that Smith has consistently shone.
In his comeback Test series after the ball-tampering saga, Smith's dominance of England, despite missing a Test with concussion, defined his reputation as the big-game master.
Smith admits he struggled watching his teammates go around without him in the summer of 2018-19 as India came and conquered their first series win on Australian soil.
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
Like he did against England, Smith will be making up for lost time this summer.
"The way India were playing and beating us at home, that was hard to watch," Smith said.
"I couldn't really do much about it at that stage. I wanted to get in there and help, and not being able to do that hurt.
"I'm looking forward to coming up against India. My best record is against India of all the teams that I've played.
"You can get in rhythms against certain bowlers and having played against a lot of these guys that are coming out now, hopefully I can find the rhythm I've been able to find when they came to Australia in 2014, and replicate something like what I did then."
What he did then was compile four centuries in as many Tests at a staggering average of 128, in arguably his signature performance.
It was when the comparisons with Bradman really were credible. Smith took over the captaincy and his numbers only improved. He seems to relish the responsibility of leadership.
Of course, Smith's world has completely changed since then. Many wondered whether the broken man who addressed the media in Sydney would ever be the same again.
That fear was dispelled at Edgbaston last year and showed that rather than stunt Smith, the enforced break might help his longevity.
WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
Another big summer against India puts even greater distance between what happened in Cape Town and would leave no doubt whatsoever that we really are talking about one of the all-time greats of the game.
Australian spearhead Josh Hazlewood has warned India it's a different ball game to two years ago with Smith and David Warner back in town.
"Our top six was pretty inexperienced in that series and there were no real batting leaders out there for guys to learn off and feed off," said Hazlewood.
It's a totally different top six that Jasprit Bumrah will face this time and it'll be a good challenge to see him go against Davey and Smithy.
A lot of top batsmen don't like to face too much fast bowling in the nets, because it can disrupt their rhythm and confidence leading into a big game.
But Smith welcomes the challenge of stepping into the firing line against his own quicks like Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
Cummins said it's an insight into the "mindset of a champion".
"He's a great problem solver," said Cummins.
"His ability to adapt to different conditions and different bowling attacks, I think, puts him in a league of his own.
"He'll have different game plans for each bowler and those game plans normally minimise the risk of getting out, while still managing to maximise the amount of runs he's scoring.
"In big series you see Smithy really come to the fore. He loves those big contests and moments and he really does get up for them."
Originally published as Look out India: Big-time Smith wants redemption