Australia v South Africa Tests
New faces and starting with a blank page
Steve Smith needed to have his new Test teammates pointed out to him this week but the refresh of the team has the Australia captain excited to start a new era
Steve is the 45th Test captain of Australia, one-day and T20 captain, and is a world-class batsman
There is no denying that the result in Hobart last week – the manner and size of the defeat, as well as the fact the series is now lost – was a bitter disappointment.
But it also meant there was always going to be changes.
We've been quite drastic in what we've done to try and turn things, and by bringing in so many new players I have to admit that for me that disappointment has now given way to a sense of excitement.
I'm excited about this new team I'll be leading, I'm excited about the challenges that are ahead of us and I'm excited by the opportunities it brings for us as a group.
And perhaps the most exciting thing is that we do get to tackle what's ahead as a unit and, with such a young team, if all goes well we could be together for a long time.
That was the theme of the talk that I delivered when we had our first formal team meeting at the hotel here in Adelaide on Tuesday afternoon, before we all headed down to Adelaide Oval for training under lights.
We'd had a bit of a less formal get together the night before, at the home of our fielding coach Greg Blewett and his wife Katheryn where we had a chance to get to know each other a bit better.
That's how new this team is.
For example, I had never set eyes on our new opening batsman Matthew Renshaw until a couple of days ago.
A few of us had arrived in Adelaide a bit ahead of most of the squad, and I had to quietly ask a couple of the guys who had met Matt beforehand to make sure they pointed him out to me if he happened to walk past.
So when we got together for our team meeting I thought it was a chance for me to set down some different values that I want this new team to live by and play the game with.
They are centred around resilience and adaptability, as well as constant learning and growth.
The resilience to fight hard when things aren't going our way on or off the field.
The adaptability to recognise when some things aren't working and change them to suit conditions or circumstances.
The ability to keep learning, both as individuals and as a group.
And the need to bond together, to learn from each other and to make sure we start now – day one for this new group – and continue to work hard together to grow and develop as one.
That bond comes from identifying and finding a way to get through difficult periods in games of cricket, and doing it together as one.
We've got eleven guys out on there on the field and we need to have an environment around us in which we trust each other, we back each other and we operate as one when we're out there.
I'm not suggesting that hasn't been the case in the team up until now. You can't achieve the sort of success we have in recent years without that level of team spirit and unity.
But I see this change in the playing group as something of a blank page.
Even when I first took over as captain from Michael Clarke there were still some players in the team that had been part of different eras and shared experiences with different groups.
This feels like a new team, and one of the most important challenges will be making sure the more experienced guys – especially me and our vice-captain David Warner – set the right example for the guys coming in.
To make sure we show the standards for these younger players so they can hopefully watch the way we prepare and perhaps even mimic us in a way, to become the best players they can be and to grow as quickly as possible.
It's also vital to make them comfortable in the environment, because we want them to come out and perform in their first game.
So the more they can feel relaxed and feel at home, then the more likely they are to be in a good mindset to go out and perform from the very start.
I clearly remember when I first came into the Test team environment, as a standby player for Nathan Hauritz leading into a match in Perth against Pakistan in 2009.
I was almost too nervous to go down to the breakfast room because of who would have been there, guys that I hardly knew as a 20-year-old.
The same age as Matt Renshaw is now.
Not that he's shown any signs of struggling to fit in.
He slotted straight into the 'hammock' at first slip at our first fielding session on Monday, a position that I must admit I wasn't eyeing because I much prefer to stay at second slip.
But even when I was standing next him in the cordon he caught everything that came to him and, perhaps more impressive for me, was the sound of the ball going into his hands.
It was a good clean sound – he was doing everything right, he's got big mitts and they're good, safe hands so that was a great, reassuring start.
I've obviously seen a lot of my New South Wales teammate Nic Maddinson and had some experience playing against Peter Handscomb and Chadd Sayers, but I also like to hear what people from around the cricket family have to say about our young guys.
It's helpful to get an insight into the individual but in the end you've got to take each person on face value.
And as a leader get the best out of them as much as you can and make them feel comfortable as they can as soon as they come into the Test team environment.
That's one of the big challenges that awaits for me, and I'm really excited to get the new era underway with a big effort against South Africa at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday.
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