The line that turned Steve Smith from emerging Test player to one of the most prolific young batsman Australia has seen was nothing more than a bluff.
Smith won his first Allan Border Medal on Tuesday night in Sydney following a year where he broke countless records, cemented himself in Australia’s Test XI and was handed the captaincy when Michael Clarke succumbed to injury.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and by the third Ashes Test in Perth last summer, Smith was yet to fully contribute to Australia’s demolition of England in what finish in a 5-0 whitewash.
Then came the words of wisdom from Bupa Support Team batting coach Michael Di Venuto, as Smith recounted on stage in front of his peers with his highest personal honour to date sitting around his neck.
"He said 'Smudge, you’re not out of form, you’re out of runs," Smith recalled.
In the next 12 Tests, Smith scored almost 1,500 runs, seven centuries at an outstanding average of 77.84.
So what were the origins of the profound proverb that transformed one of Australia’s brightest young stars into a blazing super nova?
"It's something I tried to bluff myself with in my playing days when I wasn’t scoring anything but feeling alright in the nets," laughed Di Venuto.
Di Venuto, 41, who played nine one-day internationals for Australia in 1997 and over 300 first-class games for Tasmania and several English county teams, is now part batting mentor, part human bowling machine.
Armed with his favourite 'wanger' – essentially a tennis ball launcher for dog owners – Di Venuto hurls ball after ball after ball to Australia’s most talented batsman in the nets, offering batting tips and anecdotes he’s collected across his 20-year first-class career.
Di Venuto sends down another one in the nets
"Having been out of form myself, and when you’re out of form you don’t really know what end to pick up the bat, it’s not a great feeling," Di Venuto told cricket.com.au.
"But if you’re batting well in the nets, preparing well, sometimes the nature of the game that we play things don’t happen for you out in the field.
"A lot things can go against you. One, you can make a bad decision yourself, or other things out of your control happen. That’s just part and parcel of the game that we play.
"In that series, the first Test up in Brisbane, as a coaching group we were having a chat and we thought ‘who do we think is going to score the runs?’ and we thought how well Smithy was playing in the lead up, his preparation was spot on.
"It didn’t happen for him in that Test. The next Test in Adelaide, same thing.
"His preparation was outstanding. He looked in outstanding touch and it didn’t quite happen for him then.
"Part of the thing with that comment is to stop the player from worrying about my hands, my head, my feet, other things about my batting, other than just going out there, backing your skills, watching the balls and making good decisions."
Di Venuto chats with Aaron Finch in Perth
A prodigious talent from a young age, Smith’s versatility as a dynamic, boundary-hitting batsman and crafty leg-spinner made it difficult for national selectors to find the best use of the blond Sydneysider.
It’s hard to believe that Smith, at 21-years-old, made his debut as Australia’s specialist spinner at Lord’s against Pakistan in 2010, batting at No.8 and No.9 and out for scores of 1 and 12 respectively to rival leg-spinner Danish Kaneria.
But from the word go, Smith’s ambition has been to score Test match hundreds for his country, and now at 25, his national batting coach has seen up close the hard work and dedication he has applied to his game.
"He’s developed quite a bit over the last year and a half and how he’s turned himself in to an exceptional scorer of runs, and scoring good, consistent runs nearly every time he’s going to the crease,” Di Venuto said.
"One of the biggest improvements in his play has been his decision making.
"He’s become so disciplined outside the off-stump – really picking and choosing the right balls to hit – and the form is there for everyone to see.
"He’s always loved hitting balls, preparing, and trying to make himself the best player he can.
"He’s very much his own man. His talent is immense just as a majority of the guys in our setup.
"Their skills are extraordinary and Smithy’s big improvement is his decision making and how disciplined he is with his batting.
"He’s just so run hungry. Every time he goes out to bat it’s a different innings, he starts again, watches the ball hard, and that is why he’s turning in to such a consistent run scorer."
Di Venuto works tirelessly with Australia's batsmen
Gone are the days when Smith’s dashing technique was criticised for being too loose for the rigours of Test match bowling, with that same form and flow of the bat responsible for dismantling some of the best bowling attacks around the globe.
And it’s not just in Test cricket where Smith has stamped his authority in the last 12 months.
The right-hander was crowned both the Test and one-day international player of the year at Australia’s night of nights earlier this week.
Along with all the runs, Smith also became the only player ever to score centuries on Test and ODI captaincy debut, and it’s that unbeaten one-day hundred in the successful pursuit of 304 against England at Blundstone Arena that had Di Venuto comparing him to some of Australia’s most accomplished limited-overs batsmen.
"He’s become really disciplined with his technique. I don’t think his technique has changed that much, just his decision making has improved immensely.
"He can still hit all those shots and all those boundary balls – he’s got shots to every ball that comes down.
"He’s become so disciplined with his play, as we saw the other night down in Hobart, he picked the ball off in his area (and) was in total control of that whole run chase.
"It was an innings similar to something that Dean Jones or Ricky Ponting would’ve played - they controlled the whole innings.
"There was one stage there when he was in the 90s that they brought the field up and then the next ball he hit for six.
"He’s got it all there ready to go when he wants to.
"I thought that innings was magnificent and shows his maturity and how far his game has grown."