Is Steve Smith ready for the pressure?

The last time Australia entrusted a Test skipper as young as Steve Smith it ended in tears.


This time around it started with tears.

Smith last summer became Australia’s youngest Test captain since Kim Hughes, guiding the side through the series against India after Michael Clarke’s hamstring injury.

Selectors could easily have gone with veteran Brad Haddin as a stop-gap measure, especially given the grief surrounding the squad following Phillip Hughes’ shock death.

They instead banked on Smith, a 25-year-old who had only established himself in the side a year earlier.

It was all about succession planning.

Darren Lehmann and Rod Marsh knew Clarke’s career would end soon – admittedly not this soon.

Smith was going to be Australia’s 45th Test captain at some point and there was no better form of work experience.

Needless to say it paid off.

Smith scored a century in each Test, Australia won the series 2-0.

With the exception of two draws on benign pitches, there was a lot to like for Lehmann and Marsh.

Smith clearly had the respect of the group – a product of his talent, work ethic and cricket nous.

Smith batted like a captain should, especially in his first game as skipper when Australia were 3-121 in response to India’s first-innings total of 408.

His intent was aggressive, a term that’s become synonymous with ‘the Australian way’.

The one exception was a delayed declaration at the MCG, but that was made with thoughts of wrapping up a series victory before returning to the scene where Hughes was struck down.

Smith ticked every box imaginable, but the next four years will provide challenges far more immense.

A trip to Bangladesh is first, a test of Australia’s subcontinent deficiencies that have been exposed so brutally in recent years.

Home and away Test series follow against New Zealand, a rising powerhouse keen to make a statement.

Australia are back in India in 2017, but it’s Ashes series in 2017/18 and 2019 that will shape Smith’s legacy.

It may seem simplistic, but it has always been the case.

Ricky Ponting and Clarke achieved so much during their careers – as batsmen and leaders.

Both stepped down because of a bad case of Ashes angst.

Their inability to win a series in England will always be a sore point.

Like Ponting and Clarke, Smith will be required to carry a team in transition.

Beyond Smith and David Warner, every spot in the batting order is up for grabs presuming Chris Rogers retires as planned.

It is an immense burden, especially when the hubris of past players and the hopes of so many fans are added in.

It can cause men to crack. Kim Hughes’ resignation press conference is a raw example of that.

It can also bring the best out of players – Clarke being the latest.

The question remains whether Smith has the capacity to thrive under such pressure.

But every indicator suggests he is up to it.

In his first leadership post of note, Smith bossed around Stuart MacGill and Brett Lee in a successful Sydney Sixers side.

His commitment to fanatical training rivals that of Clarke.

The public are on side.

He won widespread praise for getting players through an extremely emotional series against India.

He is desperate to improve – the team and himself – in every facet and at every junction.

Watch Smith after he is dismissed.

So many batsmen trudge off with head bowed, a picture of hopelessness.

The gifted right-hander will often inspect the video replay as he leaves the field, already desperate to remedy the problem.

Smith has had a couple of those in England recently.

Lord’s was a fitting scene for his maiden double-century, but otherwise it’s been a dry series with the bat.

In addition, locals have been laughing at Smith’s pre-series cheeky comments.

It was actually a relatively measured line, but looked downright arrogant when shortened to “I don’t think they’ll come close to us”.

It’s something Smith will have to become used to, his every word now carrying the sort of power that comes with the second most important job in the country.

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