Indore: Towards the southern end of Indore’s metro area is an establishment called the Horror Cafe. A serve of fake blood or brains with your flat white? Sure.
The portable coffee room set up by Marnus Labuschagne in Australia’s hotel might easily have gone by the same name in Delhi, as the tourists had another week to ruminate on a three-day demolition.
Steve Smith (right) will captain Australia in the third Test on Wednesday.Credit:Getty Images
No one thought more about it all than Steve Smith. As Australia’s best player, Smith held special responsibility on the fateful third morning – a duty he abrogated with an uncharacteristic sweep shot and lbw dismissal that set a chaotic collapse in motion.
Now, having spent a few days in Dubai with his wife Dani, Smith is captain in place of Pat Cummins as Cummins spends precious time with his mother Maria in palliative care. As was the case for four Tests here in 2017, Smith holds the outcome of this match in his hands. They are hands that are unlikely to be sweeping.
“I’ve played 94 Test matches, and I don’t think there’s been too many times I’ve walked off the field and I’ve gone, ‘what the hell am I doing?’” Smith said. “I was pretty angry. There hasn’t been too many times in my career where I’ve actually come off and just been bedazzled by what I’ve done.
“It wasn’t my finest moment. Certainly something to learn from, I’m still learning as well. It wasn’t the way I wanted to play, particularly when I had the field set for all of us actually, they had the field out. We probably just rushed things a little bit and it’s something we’ll talk about.”
Smith was one of four players out to poorly judged sweep shots in the second Test.Credit:Getty Images
Smith’s back has not been at its most limber since his Big Bash League exploits. And after a hip problem during the home Tests, he has struggled to stay low with the ball in the slips. More such chances are sure to arrive on Indore's surface.
The pitch has been predictably prepared in line with the surfaces unveiled in Nagpur and Delhi. While the Australians can’t do much about that, they can try to ensure that if a partnership builds or wickets start to fall, they do not play at the fast tempo desired by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
“When we’ve got them on the ropes, we can slow things down,” Smith said. “We don’t have to play at such a high tempo and risky tempo. Because we had them where we wanted them, we had men out and the ability to get off strike. We just rushed it.
“It’s not easy. That’s the way they go. They know when they are on top of you, they’ll try and rush you and play on their terms. For us, when we’re under pressure it’s about slowing it down as much as we can; maybe making them wait a little bit, walk away and regain your thoughts rather than just coming back and back. Certain things like that.”
Players have discussed and trained for better conversations in the middle. Smith also pointed out that had a poised Peter Handscomb been granted a couple longer-term batting partners, some far bigger first innings scores would have resulted.
“Communication is really key. Being able to speak to your partner and say, ‘aw, I think he’s trying to get you out this way, or what do you think of this or that’,” Smith said. “Just to get through that period and you know the longer you’re out there, the easier that it sort of gets in a way.
“And it will be different for everyone, the way they handle those moments. Think it’s finding that in our game and hopefully that applies a bit more pressure on them.”
With Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green to return, Smith will likely have three spinners to wrangle. He is conscious, too, of keeping egos in check.
“It’s making sure you are taking anyone’s ego out of play, making sure you are bowling who you think is best at that time,” Smith said. “I am going to make sure that if we go down the three spin path to make it known that this is the match-up I feel is best at this present time.”
As for Cummins, there is a strong desire among the tourists to give him something to smile about back home.
“We are all thinking of Pat,” Smith said. “He’s obviously going through a difficult time at home. It’s where he should be, really, with his mum. Hopefully we can put in a good performance for him.”
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