When the forgettable incident of ball-tampering struck Australian cricket last year, everything fell apart in their dressing room. Their image was in shambles in front of the cricketing world.
The culprits sadly were Australia's captain and his deputy, Steven Smith and David Warner, who let the side down ethically.
While one carried on the deplorable plan, the other chose not to stop it when he overheard it in the team's dressing room at the Newlands Stadium, South Africa.
Not making an effort to stop the ball-tampering turned out to be the "biggest failure" in Smith's captaincy tenure, the Australian revealed that later. As a result, he stepped down from the role and accepted a one-year ban from Cricket Australia (CA) along with Warner.
According to a statement from the national body, while Warner would never be given the chance to lead Australia, Smith would be considered after two years from then. The latter was even backed by CA director and former cricketer Mark Taylor.
"Steve Smith to me, and everyone who want to label people is not a cheat. Steve Smith was guilty of negligence in my opinion. He saw something going on and he didn't stamp it out. That's a mistake of negligence."
"He's not a cheat, he's a very good person. And to me that's the biggest damage that's happened over the past few months," said Taylor to Australian Associated Press.
Amid all this fuss, came the 11th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). In 2018, Smith's franchise, Rajasthan Royals (RR), was making a comeback in the tournament after serving a two-year-suspension.
Smith out, Rahane in
Even before the ball-tampering controversy had broken, RR named Smith it's captain for the 2018 edition. They did that after taking into consideration the job he had done in a few matches between 2014 and 2015 as an interim skipper.
However, the burden of guilt forced Smith to resign as RR's captain. Even though Smith and Warner's ban allowed them to play in T20 leagues across the globe, the Indian cricket board, BCCI, denied them from playing in the 2018 edition.
Therefore, RR named their senior player and India's Test vice-captain, Rahane, as their new skipper. In RR's last season before their two-year suspension (IPL 2015) Rahane was one of their top-performers having scored 540 runs at an average close to 50.
In the next two seasons, where Rahane played with Smith in Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS), the Indian batsman continued to impress as he notched up 480 and 382 runs in the subsequent seasons respectively.
Considering Rahane has been with RR since 2011, he was well aware of their working style, gelled well with the management and had the capability of leading from the front.
(Ajinkya Rahane and Steven Smith are marquee players for Rajasthan. Image: Twitter/RR)
In IPL 2018, without Smith, Rahane did a great job leading RR who finished fourth on the points table and made it to the playoffs. Although they lost the eliminator to Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a playoffs finish was a positive result for a side that was away from the tournament for two long years.
Meanwhile, Smith returned for IPL 2019 but RR persisted with Rahane as their captain.
Rahane's downfall, Smith's gain
This time around, Rahane and RR did not have the best of the starts. RR lost it's first three matches before they finally registered their maiden win this season.
Prior to Saturday's game, RR had won just two matches having played eight. They now need to win all their remaining matches to qualify for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, both Rahane and Smith have not been able to produce their A-game and that has hurt RR quite a bit.
Going into the Mumbai Indians (MI) game, Smith had just 186 runs to his name at an average of 37.20 in eight games so far. One of the reasons for Smith's downfall could be the fact that he has been batting at No. 4 or No. 5, a spot or two lower than his usual position.
In the past, Smith batting at No. 3 has scored an abundance of runs for Royals in the IPL. On the other hand, the only reason why RR prompted to give the captaincy to Rahane was his success with the bat between the seasons 2012 and 2015.
As a captain in the last two seasons, Rahane as an opener scored as many as 455 runs in 16 innings at an average of 30.33 with two fifties.
His numbers get better when he was not the captain as he contributed 1923 runs in 58 innings at an average of 38.46, with 15 50-plus scores including a century as an opener.
Moreover, if you look at the number of wins Rahane has clinched as RR's skipper and compare it with Smith, the former has a poorer CV.
Rahane led Royals in 23 matches between 2018 and 2019 and won just nine out of those fixtures. In contrast, Smith has led RR to six wins in eight games when he was the interim skipper in seasons 2014 and 2015.
Considering all these factors, RR made an important call on Saturday as they replaced Rahane with Smith as their captain for the remainder of the season.
RR broke the striking news just before their home fixture against MI. Revealing the news in a press release, RR said, "Ajinkya Rahane did a fantastic job in leading the team to the playoffs last year, however, the franchise now thinks a fresh approach is needed to bring their 2019 campaign back on track."
"Steve has always been part of the leadership team within RR and Rahane will continue to be a key voice in the side, therefore the Royals see this as a small restructuring process to secure the results required to move up the table."
A massive move for Smith, the captain
Smith's cricketing career has witnessed a contrasting turn of events in the last few months or so.
Despite not playing a lot of cricket in the last one year and not being able to score enough runs in the IPL this season, Australia included Smith in the World Cup squad, purely based on his past experience.
In his first seven IPL 2019 innings, Smith had just one fifty and that led to outburst against his place in RR's XI. Smith was even dropped from RR's recent fixture against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), which saw RR's sixth loss of the season.
However, a sudden change of circumstances in the RR camp including the early departure of Jos Buttler due to personal reasons has reprieved Smith's journey in IPL 2019.
Buttler's exit has allowed Smith to take his spot in the overseas quota in the XI and that was the best chance for RR to hand him the captaincy as a gamble for the rest of the season.
It is the second time Smith is leading a team following the ban, having led Comilla Victorians in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year.
If you think of the circumstances he is coming from, getting to captain again, especially in a huge platform like the IPL, it is certainly a big deal for Smith, on the personal level.
Even when he is banned from captaincy by his own country, RR has shown faith in him. It is human psychology: when an employer shows a little bit of support and faith in its employees, the following result is largely positive. Smith and RR's case was no different.
The sudden captaincy has certainly boosted Smith's confidence and that showed in his knock on Saturday. He scored a match-winning 48-ball 59* as he dragged his side to a brilliant five-wicket win over Mumbai.
(Smith had been assisting Rahane with the field placements in the previous games as well. Image: Twitter/RR)
Handing the captaincy to Smith might prove to be fruitful for him as well as for his predecessor, Rahane. Now that, the Indian is free from the responsibility, he can concentrate on his batting and that would, in turn, help RR in the upcoming days.
The way Royals played against Mumbai, clearly showed that all was good between the two and the side can look forward to turning the table around in the coming matches.
Both Rahane and Smith started off their respective innings on a high. Rahane scored two boundaries before he fell for a run-a-ball 12.
Smith obviously would not have thought of captaincy coming into the IPL. All he would have aimed at was scoring runs and getting in good touch before the World Cup. The captaincy has come as a surprise element that has surely uplifted Smith's confidence.
The Australian is scheduled to leave the tournament by May 1 for the World Cup camp. Therefore, Smith will aim at doing everything right, be it as a batsman or captain.
With Aaron Finch less experienced in the captaining department, Smith's top form and positive support will be key for the defending champions.
(Featured Image: Twitter/RR)
About the Author
More than a sport, sportspersons have kept her engaged in work. She is a sports fanatic whose mantra in life is “do only what you enjoy". She tweets @sakshi2929.