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India are priding themselves over the fact that they have a captain averaging 67, but Australia’s Steven Smith is ahead in this race as well © Getty Images

It certainly gets perplexing when it is about Steven Smith versus India. Where should one begin with? Should the 4 centuries and a mind-boggling 769 runs in the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy find their mention first? Or should the first reference be of the Smith-century in the 2015 World Cup semi-final that put India out of contention? This is not all. India are priding themselves over the fact that they have a captain averaging 67, but Smith is ahead in this race as well. Smith, having taken over the Australian captaincy around the same time Virat Kohli was heralded, averages 71, which puts him well ahead of his Indian counterpart. But, at this point, the pertinent question that arises is: is it actually all about Steven Smith versus India? FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs Australia, 1st Test at Pune

Maybe yes, or maybe no. The last time when Smith faced India in Test cricket, he had just settled down in his role as a full-time specialist batsman. Now, that Smith readies himself to take on India, he is not just one of the world’s best batsman, but he is a captain who leads from the front and delivers on a consistent basis. Since taking over, Smith has had only one series – against South Africa at home – wherein he did not make a century. Among the rubble that Australia had turned into in Sri Lanka last year, Smith stood apart once again with a fluent 119 at Colombo.

An experience of 2 Tests, 5 ODIs, 4 T20 Internationals and a plethora of IPL matches in India is all that Smith has to look behind and draw lessons from. But it is not just the learning that he procured while playing in India; Sri Lanka provided a huge learning curve as well. The experience in Sri Lanka last year – Smith’s first defeat as Test captain – has found a special place in his heart and he is not going to forget them any soon.

“You probably learn more from losing games than you do from winning, so I guess the last year has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in regards to results,” said Smith, who had walked up to Australia’s tormentor-in-chief Rangana Herath to learn about the sport in which his team had bossed around till then.

Australia endured a tough 2016 when defeats to Sri Lanka and South Africa not only dethroned them from the world’s best side position, but pushed them back into the dark abyss of a ‘rebuilding’ phase. In those 6 Tests, Smith’s report card only had solitary century and a 59 to show his mettle as a leader in tough times. But that wretched run saw Smith coming up with two stupendous knocks.

The century at Colombo against Sri Lanka was a proof that Smith was not limited to batting-friendly wickets at home that Australia have prepared of late. He was ready to make big runs in the Indian subcontinent too. Working the ball around for singles and doubles paved the day for a fine hundred, but unfortunately for Smith and Australia, it was not enough to avert their second defeat on the trot.

Remarkably, the best innings that Smith played throughout 2016 neither culminated into a triple-figure mark, nor it helped him to get past the score of 50. Smith’s 48 not out at Hobart – on a day when Australia were made to feel like ‘it was Trent Bridge all over again’ (in Darren Lehmann’s words) – stood out as his best innings in a very, very long time.

Smith’s innings was special not because it amounted to more than 50 per cent of runs that Australia scored on that horrendous day. It was special because it marked Smith’s entry into the league of the grinders, those batsmen who would do anything and everything to survive at the crease. For those who even have watched the highlights of South Africa’s annihilation of Australia in Hobart Test of 2016, it will be easier to understand how special that innings was.

These are no digressions. It is important to understand Smith is no more a home-track bully who would pile up mountain of runs on the wickets where he has been bred. When India had met Smith in red-ball cricket the last time, he may have come across one, but not anymore. Smith has a 199 at Kingston; a 215 at Lord’s. But that 48 not out should make India think, since no more he can be bludgeoned with any specific type of bowling.

A free-flowing batsman who has already cracked a century on this India tour, Smith promises runs more than any other captains who have toured India so far this season. India successfully managed to keep a lid on Kane Williamson and even Alastair Cook, but Smith could be a different and even tougher challenge for the hosts, who have so far played on pitches that have assisted batsmen who put heavy prices on their wickets.

Smith knows the value his wicket carries, and it is turning out to be an interesting battle between the hosts’ bowlers and the one who is ranked ahead of their captain, Kohli. “Yep, if I can have a big series, then we are well on the way to doing well in this series,” he said after arriving in India.

In a mere 6 Tests, Smith has amassed 930 runs against India at 93. He could perhaps become the quickest Australian to a thousand runs in his first innings of the upcoming series itself. Smith has played far too many knocks of significance to let India know he remains their toughest opponent.

But then, pressure will equally be on Smith, who is leading a team that has lost all of their last 9 Tests in the Indian subcontinent. Smith has been a part of each one of them, so he would know what is at stake as Australia prepare to end their wretched run. From his side, Smith has played a few tricks to ensure his players are in the right mindset. David Warner, another run-machine, has been challenged to convert centuries into big scores. The others have been consulted to trust their skills a lot more than they usually do in this part of the world. The differences between water-tight defence and aggression have been highlighted time and again. Players have been urged to play their natural games, but at the same time, use their brains more.

Smith remains a workhorse for the Australian team which has tremendous promise but a very little to show in their report card. The demolition of Pakistan, however, was an important junction in their road back to normalcy, since Australia dominated in a manner only they can. It showed what this young side can achieve if it plays as a unit. But then, there are several in  Smith’s team who are on the road for the first time, and he will have some tough time managing the workload between the roles of a captain and the batsman who likes to remain at the forefront.