London: When Steven Smith made his Ashes debut in Perth during England`s victorious 2010/11 tour of Australia he was, following prompting from then captain Ricky Ponting, clear on his role in the team.
"I`ve been told that I`ve got to come into the side and be fun," Smith said. "For me, it`s about having energy in the field and making sure I`m having fun and making sure everyone else around is having fun, whether it be telling a joke or something like that."
It seemed an extraordinary thing for him to say in public. His words didn`t seem to offer much hope of a lengthy career for a leg-spinning all-rounder, particularly one with an unorthodox batting technique, and were duly mocked by England.
But roll on a few years and the situation is very different. Smith is now the world`s number one ranked Test batsman, with five hundreds in his last six Tests at an average of 131.5.
Now the task of for Smith, who as the son of an English mother was courted by county side Surrey with the aim of becoming England qualified, is much more straightforward: it is to score runs and plenty of them as Australia bid to win their first Ashes series in England in 14 years.
"I remember Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell getting into me quite a bit," Smith, now Australia`s vice-captain, told reporters as he recalled his first experience of playing against England.
"I don`t think they really rated the way I played... Maybe I`ve changed their views now."Certainly the type of criticism Smith has faced in the lead-up to this Ashes has altered.
England paceman Stuart Broad, while acknowledging the Australian`s recent run of form, questioned whether Smith could continue to make big scores in a relatively new position of No 3 in English conditions, which tend to assist swing, and against a Dukes ball which is reputed to move more than other brands.
"It`s the pre-Ashes when guys come out and say a lot of things," said Smith of Broad`s comments. "I`m just going to try to go out there and do the things I`ve been doing for the last 12 or 13 months and score runs. I`d just like my bat to do the talking.
"I`ve enjoyed batting at three and had a bit of success there against West Indies but over here will be a bigger challenge," added Smith, who scored 199 and 54 in his most recent Test -- Australia`s 277-run win in Jamaica last month.
"(England) is probably one of the harder places in the world to bat against the new ball and I`m going to have to make sure my game is ready to go," added Smith ahead of the first Test against England in Cardiff starting on Wednesday.Smith`s batting style at the crease, complete with a large trigger movement across the stumps and a wafting blade, which seems to have little hope of coming down straight, will never appeal to cricket purists.
But he insisted he had refined his method over the years.
"When I played the Ashes in 2010-11, my technique probably wasn`t up to it, I was probably playing at balls I didn`t need to be," the 26-year-old said.
"I looked at a bit of footage, what I needed to improve. Since then my technique has tightened up a lot and my general mindset around batting and batting long periods has certainly changed.
"I got rid of a tap that I used to have, just before the bowler bowled to me. I was getting myself too high, my balance was out, my stroke-play was out, everything was out of sync, so I am a lot more still at the crease now.
"I know I have got an attacking game and as long as my defence is in order, I am pretty confident I can score runs," Smith said.