There is an episode from Steve Smith's first spell in charge of the Sydney Sixers that demonstrates just why those in the know are already nominating him for higher leadership honours, even as Australia's next Test captain.
It occurred at ANZ Stadium two summers ago, a few weeks before Smith and the Sixers lifted the Big Bash League trophy with victory in the final over Perth Scorchers.
The team in magenta was playing crosstown rivals Sydney Thunder before a crowd of 31,262, and a 22-year-old Smith was calling the shots in place of captain Brad Haddin, who was busy on Australian duties.
Defending a total of 117, Smith organised his field, deploying a decorated player many years his senior at fine-leg. His elder teammate wasn't impressed at being made to run from one corner of the ground to another, and eventually confronted Smith, blowing up.
"I'm not here to field," he beamed at the young Sixers leader. Smith looked him in the eye and replied with words to this effect: "I'm the captain, and you'll do what I tell you," ordering him back to the boundary.
The match was rained out shortly after – Thunder batting for only 5.3 overs and losing on Duckworth-Lewis. But word got around about how the baby-faced skipper had stood up to the seasoned pro.
Fast forward nearly two years to the day and on Friday night Smith, 24, will again take the reins for the third-placed Sixers – against the Scorchers, who are running second – at the SCG on Friday night.
At the scene of his match-turning third Test hundred only a week ago, he reclaims the captaincy in a significantly more developed stage of his career – entrenched in Australia's Test middle order and, with no small thanks to the endorsement of Ricky Ponting, regarded as a candidate eventually to succeed Michael Clarke.
Smith's rise as an emerging leader as well as a batsman is no surprise, though, at Sutherland District Cricket Club, which made him first-grade captain at 19.
"He's always had a pretty good cricket brain," said long-serving club official Tom Iceton. "He's lived for cricket, really. And going back a few years he still had a bit of growing up to do but he's certainly done that over the past few years."
Ponting agreed. "Steve Smith is the one I think that could find himself in that role," he told Fairfax Media earlier in the summer when asked if there were a future Test captain in Clarke's XI. "But if you had asked me two years ago, I would have said absolutely not. It seems like he has sorted himself out and he is playing well."
Smith, who also led NSW for the first time during this season's Ryobi Cup, knows the highest office in Australian sport is not going to be vacant for some time, and even when it is there is no certainty he'll be in the mix – or, dependent on form, even in the team.
But his output in the past six months, scoring three Ashes hundreds in six Tests and saving Australian first innings with two of them, indicate he is there for the long haul. In that sense the continued grooming of Smith the captain should make interesting viewing.
"I do enjoy it, it's nice to lead a group, especially a group like this," Smith said of captaining the Sixers." We've got some very experienced heads around and some good players as well so it's certainly something I do enjoy doing. Hopefully I can continue to have a bit of success with it as well."
with Alex Nicholson
The story Sydney Sixers captain Steve Smith on L-plates for higher honours first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.