But it’s not just Cape Town and Sandpapergate that link Smith and South Africa together. It is no secret that South Africa have caused Australia’s batting savant more trouble than any other of his regular Test opponents.
But for Smith, against the backdrop of his astonishing current career mark of 60.98, his record of just one century and three half-centuries in 17 innings against South Africa is a thorn in his side. The prospect of facing them again in a three-Test series for the first time since the infamous 2018 saga has him eager to prove a point in more ways than one.
“Some of the bowlers I’ll come up against, I’ve come up against previously. I’m really looking forward to the series like everyone else. Hopefully, I can get into a nice groove.”
Such is Smith’s thirst for batting and his thirst for improvement, prior to the fourth and final day in Adelaide with Australia’s two batting innings already completed in the game, Smith was in the nets facing throwdowns with red balls from the coaching staff to prepare for the first Test in Brisbane in six days’ time.
“I feel in a good place, batting nicely, feel in good rhythm and I’m looking forward to it,” Smith said. “Had a hit against the red ball this morning in preparation, just changing from the pink, so the focus can now completely go to South Africa and I can’t wait.”
He knows too that South Africa are a step up from what he has just been facing. West Indies quick Alzarri Joseph bowled a couple of brisk and decent spells in the two-Test series, nudging 140kph, but Smith largely avoided them. Instead, he had gorged on the mostly sub-130kph offerings from Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Jason Holder and Kyle Mayers, as well as the less-than-threatening offspin of Roston Chase and Kraigg Brathwaite.
Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj will be waiting for Smith in Brisbane, having dismissed him in Tests three times each. Dean Elgar has oddly picked him up twice too. But Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen and Lungi Ngidi won’t be shy to test Smith’s revamped method out in the way that New Zealand’s Neil Wagner and England’s Mark Wood had caused him to review his technique across recent summers.
“You play what’s in front of you,” Smith said. “Sometimes when you are facing faster bowlers it can be easier to score and things like that than if you’re facing someone bowling 130kph and nibbling them around.
“That’s the key to any attack, having that kind of variety so you’re never getting into a rhythm as a batter. I think South Africa provide that; they have Nortje bowling 150kph, Rabada 140-150, then a left-armer in Jansen, and a good spinner in Maharaj. It will be a good challenge for our batters and hopefully, we can continue the way we’ve started the summer.”
“The cricket we’ve played over the last four-and-half years, we’ve played the right way, we’ve been hard and played in the right spirit,” Smith said. “For us nothing changes, we are just going to continue to go about our business and hopefully continue playing good, entertaining cricket.”
Smith and South Africa aren’t a match made in heaven, but they remain a promoter’s dream.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo