TELFORD VICE, Perth
IT didn’t take long for an Australian to pick up the gauntlet thrown by Dale Steyn on Sunday when he said SA would target Steve Smith in the test series that starts at the WACA on Thursday.
Steyn launched into a metaphoric mash-up about the Australian captain that veered from cutting the heads off snakes to advice on how to sink ships.
Less than 24 hours later the senior bowler in the home side’s squad, Peter Siddle, returned the taunt – though in the more prosaic tones of the straightforward Victorian he is.
“He said it well,” Siddle said. ”That’s how you go into most series: you target the captain.
“You put a lot of pressure on him and then it puts pressure on other guys.
“That’s true to any game and that’s what you want to do.”
But Siddle being Siddle – that is, an archetypically competitive Aussie – he had to go a step further and add a second player to the mix.
“We will be trying to put the pressure on Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, the two senior guys in their top order,” he said.
“You try to put pressure on them and then they have to rely on the inexperienced guys a but more, and that puts pressure on the whole side.”
All good clean spin ahead of the start of hostilities. Except that Du Plessis arrived in Australia still bathed in the afterglow of his team’s 5-0 thumping of Smith’s side in a one-day series in SA, which followed their test series win over New Zealand.
Smith will try to pick up the pieces in the wake not only of the ODI hiding but also of the 3-0 drilling his men endured in a test series in Sri Lanka.
Surely Smith was in danger of being relieved of the captaincy.
Siddle disagreed by spreading the blame for Australia’s recent results.
“It’s a team thing, it can’t just come down to one guy,” he said. “Obviously your captain wants to stand up.
“Sri Lanka was a disappointing series for everyone. We’ve never gone there and performed so badly.
“But we’ve got to stand up. This is our time now to stand up and show that we are a competitive side, to show why we were No. 1.
“Steve will lead by example. His captaincy is some of the best I’ve played under. His knowledge of the game and how to go about it in the field is second to none.
“I enjoy playing under him. He is a good team man, he controls the team well in the field and the batting will look after itself.”
Smith also had the confidence of Usman Khawaja, who expressed surprise at the very idea that questions should be asked of a skipper who has been on the losing side in his last eight games at the helm.
“No-one has mentioned it and I haven’t heard it,” Khawaja said.
“Steve is a fairly young captain, in terms of being captain, and he is going to captain for a very long time.
“With the way he keeps performing with the bat, which is as important as anything, he leads from the front and he can only get better as captain.”
Smith has led Australia in 52 games across the formats, of which his team have won 27.
Du Plessis also has 27 victories as an international captain, but he has been in charge for only 42 matches.
And that must make Smith the bigger target.