In the wake of his team’s hefty Test series defeat and his subsequent early withdrawal from the tour of Sri Lanka, Australia captain Steve Smith turned to his adolescent past as preparation for his upcoming challenge.
The month-long Qantas ODI Tour of South Africa that precedes a non-stop home summer schedule and then a defining Test campaign in India next February and March.
With his international teammates still engaged in limited-overs matches in Sri Lanka, his fellow New South Welshmen involved in their own their own pre-season regimes and Sydney Premier Cricket yet to get underway, Smith enlisted the man who oversaw his development as a teenage cricket prodigy.
His father, Peter, who was called into action as a net ‘bowler’ in Sydney last weekend after Smith had taken a rare break from the game that is now his life but felt the need to pick up a bat prior to the Australia ODI squad flying out for South Africa on Tuesday.
"I’ve had a good break," Smith said when he and coach Darren Lehmann fronted the media in Johannesburg as the first official engagement of the current tour that features five matches against South Africa as well as an ODI against Ireland.
"I had a hit two days before we left (Australia), I actually got my old man to feed me some balls for the first time in about eight years.
"So it was a good thrill for him, and I hadn’t lost it.
"I felt like I hit the ball really well, and we’ve got a week here (in Johannesburg) to prepare and I’ll get some good time in the nets over this week and then be ready to go for the first game."
— Andrew Ramsey (@ARamseyCricket) September 21, 2016
When Lehmann, whose coaching contract with the men’s team was recently extended until 2019, quizzed his skipper for an assessment of his dad’s coaching credentials Smith revealed that the dynamic between the pair had changed markedly now that the 27-year-old is leading his country.
"He didn’t say a word actually," Smith said of the man who mentored his son until the age of 16 at which point Steve Smith began to make his mark at Sydney grade club Sutherland, which he then went on to captain while still a teenager.
"It was a bit different to when I was growing up."
Just as they did in Sri Lanka ahead of their unforeseen 0-3 Test whitewash barely two months ago, Australia arrives in South Africa as the world’s number-one ranked team in the ODI format.
But the recent form they showed in the five-match ODI campaign against Sri Lanka, which Australia (under David Warner’s captaincy after Smith returned to Australia for a break midway through that series) won 4-1 suggests they will prove a far more potent force than they were in the Test arena recently.
That is underscored by the Australians’ impressive record on South Africa soil, in conditions that are expected to present a stark contrast to the dry, dusty, spin-friendly pitches rolled out in Sri Lanka, where only one total in excess of 250 was posted for the entire tournament.
"I’d say they are the most similar (conditions) you are going to get, so it’s not so foreign in a way," Smith said when asked why Australia boasts a greater winning percentage in Test cricket and an almost identical ODI success rate as their hosts in matches played in South Africa.
"It’s a great place to play cricket, the wickets have some good pace and bounce and that’s how we like to play on those kind of wickets.
"It’s exciting for one-day cricket to have those kinds of wickets, with generally quite big scores.
"So I’m sure things will be a little bit different from what we saw in Sri Lanka in regards to the amount of runs that are going to be scored in this series."
Australia’s opening match of the Qantas Tour of South Africa will be against Ireland at Benoni next Tuesday, with the first battle against the Proteas scheduled for Centurion the following Friday.