Australia are mirroring their captain's defiance
It's often said about a cricket team that it takes on the character of the captain. There's now a determined defiance about this Australian team that was missing until Steven Smith delivered a stern rebuke after the Hobart debacle when they capitulated to a relentless South African attack. Following that ignominious defeat Smith said: "We didn't have that fight and resilience in us."
Well, one of the noticeable things about a rejuvenated Australian side in India has been how they have displayed a confidence and defiance that is a mirror image of their captain.
Smith was already a successful batting captain, but on this tour of India he has taken his play to another level. He's made two centuries in three Tests, and following his undefeated vigil in Ranchi, it's apparent India's bowlers are no closer to unlocking the secret to upending him. They may have run out of ideas. Smith's patience and thirst for runs is never-ending.
Smith has reduced his mental errors to a minimum. He has eradicated much of the risk from his play but he still puts away the bad or even slightly wayward delivery.
Such was India's desperation in Ranchi that it looked less like a Test and more like a schoolyard romp between two 11-year-olds when Wriddhiman Saha piled on top of the Australian captain in an effort to extract the ball from between Smith's legs.
Seeing Smith amass runs with the same ease with which Warren Buffett accumulates wealth, it's hard to imagine he was first chosen for Australia as a legspinner who batted at eight. That may have been the selectors' assessment at the time but his team-mates are adamant he always wanted to be a batsman.
Those same team-mates also say Smith hits more balls in practice than anyone. He looks like a self-made player as he scurries back and across before the bowler delivers, but his defence is watertight, and at the point of contact everything is in position to inflict maximum damage.
It's rare for such a successful player to expend so much effort hitting practice balls. Sachin Tendulkar was another of that ilk, but it's more common to hear a player (incorrectly) classed as a "natural" when he enjoys great success.
Two match-winning batsmen from the past who adopted the opposite routine to Smith were South Africa's Graeme Pollock and Australia's Doug Walters. Pollock would religiously face 12 throwdowns before each innings and Walters was diligent at an official net practice, but in between those sessions the only thing he struck was a match to light up another cigarette.
Smith may be the backbone of Australia's batting on this tour but he is also focused on his players' performance. He expertly shepherded Glenn Maxwell through his innings to help produce a substantial partnership and the effervescent allrounder's first Test century.
The feature of Maxwell's batting was the responsibility he displayed in contrast with his extravagant limited-overs strokeplay. His emotional response to reaching three figures and the follow-up hug for his captain said a lot about the spirit in this Australian team.
For the bulk of Smith's marathon knock, his counterpart, Virat Kohli, was missing with an injured shoulder. Without Kohli's inspiration, the exasperation and frustration began to show on the bowlers' faces, especially that of Ishant Sharma.
Kohli made a calculated move to prise Smith out of his comfort zone in Bangalore and it worked. Smith suffered a rare dual failure and his team lost. Kohli's strategy was successful, but it's time India found a way to unsettle Smith with their bowling tactics rather than with verbal assaults.
Before the tour commenced, Smith was informed his team had no chance of succeeding. He has proved those predictions wrong and in the process formed a squad that is confident and resilient and a far cry from the brittle side that was destroyed at Bellerive.
This Australian team has defied the odds and performed in a manner no one could have predicted. A bit like their skipper.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist