Steve Smith is a better player when he’s captain

I just want to start with saying that our thoughts and prayers are with Pat Cummins and his family. He has done the absolute right thing by staying back in Sydney with his ailing mother. We all wish her well. These are times when you realise there’s more to life than cricket. He’s got every right to go back home.

I remember the time Mohammad Siraj lost his father while we were just getting started with our Australia tour in 2020-21. That was a different world of course. Those were quarantine times, and we were in a bubble. It was very difficult to get back into the country if he had left. And he took the call to stay. Here with Pat, he can return for the fourth Test. But it gives a chance for the rest of the team to rally around him.

Steve Smith pictured prior to a training session in Indore on Tuesday.Credit:Robert Cianflone, Getty Images

Australia do have a readymade replacement at the top in Steve Smith. And I think that will work for them. Firstly, whenever I have seen Smith captain the side, he’s been a different batter, a better batter. The responsibility of captaincy seems to bring that different kind of mindset. His concentration levels seem far higher, and you just have to look at his batting average as captain. It is outstanding. He is one of those players who thrives on the extra workload of leading the side.

India will be aware that someone like Smith somewhere down the line in this series will come good. He showed glimpses in Nagpur, but then Ravichandran Ashwin got the better of him twice in Delhi. However, a player of his pedigree would have realised that he can correct what hasn’t worked for him so far. And there are few better than him to make that slight correction count with a big score.

There’s also the added element of how Smith will lead Australia here. He’s got a great understanding of Indian conditions, having led here before and also all the years he’s spent playing and captaining in the IPL.

He understands the tempo of cricket in India better than what Cummins would have. There have been times in this series where the inexperience of Cummins as captain in these conditions came through rather evidently. And it has hurt Australia.

I brought up comparisons with India’s 36 all out in my last column after Australia’s collapse in Nagpur. But if anything, what transpired in Delhi was the closest to Adelaide 2020. It was a carbon copy. Australia got the lead after the first two days and were well in front of the game. Then the game was over in one session.

Australia should take that as a big positive, to take the first innings lead against India despite not playing at their best. The bottom line is they need to trust their defence and focus on their footwork. If you’re using your feet, do it with intent. Do not be scared of getting stumped. You have to adapt to the conditions in front of you and not focus on preconceived notions.

To play the sweep shot against a low-turning ball is the most dangerous option. It was acceptable to play in Nagpur with the extra bounce. But not in Delhi. Any top-class player should know that.

With Cameron Green coming back, Australia have six proper batters and even if two of them come off, they could score close to 300 and more in their first innings. That is key in Indore.

I thought the bowlers have kept Australia in the game, but their batters need to give them more runs to play with. India will be bull-headed and go for the kill. What Australia need to do is hold their nerve, which I back them to do under Smith.

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