Nine months after being handed a year-long ban for his involvement in the ball tampering fiasco that rocked the cricketing world to its core, Steve Smith fronted up to the cameras for the first time at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday (December 21). The former captain insisted that he is in a good space currently but admitted it was tough at times watching Australia especially when they were on a losing streak and not do anything about it.
"If I am honest, it has been tough at times, particularly when the boys haven't played their best at times, it has been hard watching and knowing that I can't go out and help," Smith confessed. "But Tim Paine's leadership has been exceptional. Since taking over as captain, obviously he has been faced with difficult circumstances to begin with and he has been terrific."
Australia's win against India in the second Test at Perth last week was their first since the ball-tampering scandal in March and Smith said that he was "really proud" of the team and hoped they would take a lot of confidence from it going forward.
"I was really proud of the way the boys played last week at Perth, I thought they were magnificent," he said. "It was good to see a fast and bouncy surface at Perth, it almost looked like the WACA of old.
"It was an amazing Test match and I am sure the boys have taken a lot of confidence from it."
Smith's press-conference in the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal was a tearful affair, with him breaking down multiple times. The 29-year-old opened up on the "dark days" since that revealing there were times he did not want to get out of bed, but said that he was in a much better headspace now.
"I am going okay, I have had tough days, I have had my ups and downs," admitted Smith. "I have been very fortunate to have a close group of people around me that have helped me get through those difficult times.
"There have been some dark days where I haven't wanted to get out of bed and things like that but I have had a close group of people around me that have told me that it okay and that it was a big mistake. I am trying to move on from that and improve as a person."
Going back to the events that unfolded in Newlands, Cape Town in March when Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera trying to hide a piece of sandpaper, Smith admitted it was a "leadership failure" on his part and that he had the chance of stopping what eventually transpired on the field but he failed to do so.
"I sort of walked past and had the opportunity to stop it and I didn't do it and that was my leadership failure," said Smith. "There was potential for something to happen and it happened out in the field and I had the opportunity to stop it rather than saying 'I don't want to know about it' but I didn't. That was my failure of leadership and I have taken responsibility for that.
"And that is something I have learnt over the last nine months, that every decision you make can have a negative outlook. 'If things go pear-shaped, what's it gonna look like, if things go well, how does that look.' Now it is about learning and slowing your thinking down and ensuring that you make the right decisions more often than not."
Smith's 12-month ban concludes at the end of March next year. While serving his suspension the right-hander has played in T20 competitions in the Caribbean (CPL) and Canada (Global T20 League) as well as featured for Sutherland in NSW Premier Cricket. He also faced the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in the nets.
With the ODI World Cup getting underway May, 2019 and the Ashes to follow later in the year, Australia have a host of series lined up. Smith said that all he was thinking right now if he got selected was to get Australia back to winning ways and help Test captain Tim Paine and ODI captain Aaron Finch in every possible way he could.
"I have been working hard on my game, I have been concentrating on a few weaknesses," he said. I want to come back better. These nine months have been a big learning curve for me and having a year out of the game to mentally refresh gave myself a good headspace to go again.
"The next three months are just about preparing where I am at and hopefully be a part of the World Cup and the Ashes. As I said before, Tim Paine has done an exceptional job and Aaron Finch taking over the one-day side, he has had a tough start to that, with the performances of the team, but if I get a chance to come back I will do everything I can to help them out and get Australia success."
"I am just moving forward day to day and doing what I need to do to prepare, hopefully, to get another opportunity to play for Australia and if that is World Cup and Ashes, so be it. I'll just keep working hard and if I get the opportunity that will be great."
Before his ban ends, Smith will play in the Pakistan Super league and will then turn out for Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2019. The former captain hoped that playing against top class bowlers in the two leagues will help him provide adequate preparation for the international schedule ahead.
"I have got the Pakistan (Super) League, the IPL, which I think will be adequate preparation for the World Cup if I am selected," said Smith.
"I think now the way the one-day game is played it is almost an extension of the T20 in a way. So, T20 cricket is a good way to prepare and the IPL is one of the best tournaments around the world and from what I have heard about the Pakistan league, it is of high quality, so I think that will be adequate preparation.