Leadership was far away from Steven Smith's mind when there was a knock on his hotel room door on Friday evening in Jaipur. It was a member of the Rajasthan Royals team management, and the message was simple - he was the captain of the team. A day later, Smith admitted to being surprised by the update, and said his first act was to have an "honest chat with Ajinkya Rahane", who he described as the "perfect team man".
"I think Ajinkya has done a terrific job for the last year-and-a-half. Obviously, he got the boys to the playoffs last year, but the management called me in yesterday and said they wanted me to captain for the rest of the season," Smith said after steering Royals to a five-wicket win over Mumbai Indians with an unbeaten half-century, his first of the season. "I was a bit surprised by it at the time, but yeah, that's their decision.
"I wasn't going for the captaincy or anything like that. The management just called me and told me this was how it's going to be. So I had a chat with Ajinkya, he's a terrific guy. He said 'whatever's best for the team, I'll support'. You just have to see the way he came out. It's never easy being told those kind of things but he came out today and played some nice shots at the start, got us off to a good start. He's a terrific guy and always does what is the best for the team."
"I haven't quite enjoyed hiding in the field, it's not my sort of way around things. I like being in the midst of the action, around the hotspots, and get involved"
It's the latest upturn in what has been a rollercoaster few months for Smith, during which an elbow problem - and the after-effects of a surgery on it - have been constants. He has been playing with an elbow guard, both while batting and while fielding, to help curb the flexing of the muscles near the area that was affected. While this has impacted his throwing and forced him to curb certain shots, Smith said the good news was that he was "only two weeks away" from complete recovery.
"I still have to play quite heavily strapped, there's still a few issues with throwing, but I am getting there slowly," he said. "I can't throw full tilt yet, but in a couple of weeks, I should be able to throw at full pace, which is going to be nice. I haven't quite enjoyed hiding in the field, it's not my sort of way around things. I like being in the midst of the action, around the hotspots, and get involved.
"The elbow is coming along nicely. Since I've been in India, I haven't felt any pain batting. It's more about just getting used to the fact that I can't straighten my arm, which took some time to get around, but I'm feeling good, better with each and every game that I play."
Before this game, Smith has been unable to put up a really big score, or impact the result of a game in a big way. Smith expressed relief at doing that on Saturday, and sounded happy with where his game was at.
"I feel like I'm getting better and better, the way I'm hitting the ball," he said. "More importantly, my mind is probably getting better and better, the decisions I'm making. I base my batting around the decisions I make, and I'm clearer in my mind. I'm getting clearer and clearer about the way I play.
"I'm happy where things are at, currently. Hopefully, things can get better for the Royals over the next few games. That's what I'm thinking about for the moment."
Smith reserved special praise for Riyan Parag, the third youngest after Prayas Ray Burman and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to feature in the IPL. Smith shared a 70-run stand with the 17-year-old to help Royals recover from a mini-slump and canter to victory. Parag's audacious shot-making, particularly off Lasith Malinga and Hardik Pandya, had Smith run up to him to exchange high-fives.
The new Royals captain said Parag had taught even the experienced players, including himself, a few lessons. "He's a terrific young kid," Smith said. "He works very hard, he's a fit and strong young kid. The way he batted, even in the first game that he played, he taught a lot of the experienced players a few lessons, including myself. He played with a really cool head, just came out and played with freedom.
"He saw the ball, hit the ball and didn't worry about anything."
On Parag's bowling - full of tricks and variations - Smith said, "He's also got terrific skills with the ball. He bowled really well against Chennai (Super Kings) and bowled really well here. He only started bowling the stuff that he's been bowling three weeks ago, before that he was just a genuine offspinner. The kid learns very quickly, sign of a very good player, someone who has a bright future. There's no doubt about that."