Justin Langer couldn’t have possibly taken over as Australian men’s cricket coach at a more difficult time.
Before walking out at the Gabba on Wednesday, Steve Smith’s last T20 knock was against India at Mohali in a virtual quarter-final of the 2016 ICC World T20. That dismissal for a score of two may have been highly debatable – however, he hardly set the format ablaze.
For a sensational Test batsman that Smith had turned out to be, his fitness and artistry were retained and invested fully in red-ball cricket. Despite not playing any T20 games for Australia since the encounter against India, he became a vital cog for his franchise in the ninth and tenth season of the Indian Premier League.
Even then, Smith was overlooked for representing Australia in T20s. Nevertheless, his return to Australia’s T20 plans ahead of the extravaganza next year wasn’t surprising, given his promising show in the 2019 World Cup. Then again, his undisputed Test credentials or his peerless display in the Ashes weren’t going to lock his place for the next year’s event.
At Brisbane, when Smith strolled out at the loss of Finch to Malinga, he smelled blood. The lanky pacer stood at the forefront when Sri Lanka dismantled New Zealand a month ago in a low-scoring affair. Presently – at the exit of the opposing captain – Smith faced a juiced-up Malinga.
Although the number one Test batsman got released from his shackles while facing Nuwan Pradeep, his control per cent remained almost perfect – even against Malinga. David Warner – similar to the first game at Adelaide – started off slowly. He watched his partner at the other end manhandling Pradeep and cunningly neutralising the prodigy Malinga.
The Sri Lankan skipper tried to trap Smith with an lbw on multiple occasions as he kept walking across his stumps. However, all Smith continued doing was helping the ball away to deep square leg and sprinted for the twos and threes.
The fifth over of the Australian innings pegged Sri Lanka almost out of the game, giving away 17 runs. By the time Malinga came back for his second spell, the hosts had the series victory well within sights – and Smith was well set now. It was in this over that the right-hander collected two boundaries with disdain – one behind the square leg and another thumping past mid-off.
In the subsequent over, Smith reached only his third fifty for Australia in a little more than 30 T20 internationals by punching a single to long-off. Just like that, it took a little more than an over for Australia to pocket the series. The tale of two controversial yet influential men in Australian cricket guiding their side to a convincing win on the home soil was indeed pleasurable.
It was all the more satisfying that – after reigning supreme in his return to Test cricket – Smith’s comeback to the shortest format has also been a fruitful one. For a compelling transformation that Smith 2.0 has undergone in both the forms of the game since his return, T20 internationals undeniably remains an unconquered territory.
The coming months will test Smith’s adaptability in the format when they travel overseas before Australia come back to their den in quest of their first T20 trophy.