Steve Smith learned very early that playing cricket and winning is the same thing.

Playing cricket with his father Peter in the backyard of their Alfords Point home in Sydney's southern suburbs taught the future Australian Test cricket captain about the skills needed to play the game — and the skills needed to win the game.

This lesson is in many ways the reason Smith has risen to become one of the sport's best batsmen — arguably the greatest the game has seen since Sir Donald Bradman.

It's also the reason he now stands accused of being one of Australian sport's greatest villains.


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In the backyard father-son games where a bumpy paved pathway was used as a pitch and a flower bed on one side of the yard was automatically out, Smith learned how to face a moving ball that jagged off the pitch.

As The Australian reported in December 2014 when Smith became Australia's Test skipper, Smith and his old man finished every session with a simulated game scenario where the blond-haired talent needed to smash 20 runs off two overs of his dad's bowling. Winning was everything right from the start.

Smith's downfall is not as simple as a case of a man willing to do anything, risk anything, to win.

According to cricket commentators, Smith is a "good kid". In those same commentators' eyes the 28-year-old is incapable of devising and orchestrating a plan to deliberately cheat during the Third Test by tampering with the ball with the intent of gaining an unfair advantage by getting the ball to reverse swing unnaturally early in South Africa's second innings.

The son of an English mother and a cricket-obsessed father, Sydney-born Smith grew up idolising Aussie cricket legend Ricky Ponting and the values his Baggy Green stood for. His favourite sportsman remains Roger Federer — in the eyes of many the very essence of sporting class and honour.

It's easy to understand then that Smith is well-known as the hardest-worker in the Aussie team.

Steve Smith (right) at the press conference after day three. Photo / Getty Images.
Steve Smith (right) at the press conference after day three. Photo / Getty Images.

The player that is the first to arrive for training sessions in the nets and the last to leave.

The player, who gets his fiance, Dani Willis, to feed balls into bowling machines so he can train on days off.
You have to look back to that Alfords Point backyard to see how that hypersensitive need to win could overshadow a desire to act like his heroes Ponting and Federer.

Above everything else, Ponting and Federer were still winners.

It is all Smith has known. In the captaincy eras of Ponting and Steve Waugh — while Smith was playing in that backyard and then with Illawong-Menai Junior Cricket Club — Australian cricket fans rarely had to experience defeat.

Just as their was a generation of NSW rugby league fans who had to wait nine years in between Blues' State of Origin series victories, Smith grew up in a generation of Aussies who almost never had to know about defeat.

He sure knows about it now. Australia has slipped off the top perch of international cricket since predecessor Michael Clarke was in the top job — and it must rankle that overly-sensitive need to win Smith has always carried.

It's why he could be persuaded, coerced even, into committing the sort of deceitful ball-tampering act that has stained the revered Aussie cricket brand.

Just as those commentators believe, Smith's background suggests it is not in his make-up to conceive a plot to deliberately cheat.

It's at this point in the story that legendary ABC Grandstand cricket commentator Jim Maxwell believes vice-captain David Warner comes into the picture.

When asked if the Aussie cricket team's so-called attack dog could have led Smith astray, the veteran commentator told BBC Radio that Smith's hunger to win might not have been able to say no to the enticing suggestion from his second-in-command.

When asked if Warner had led Smith astray, Maxwell said: "He could well have, yes".

"I think that might be a factor that comes out in this inquiry. Steve is a good bloke (and) a fine cricketer, but he's a bit immature and naive. He might have been led into something that he might have been thinking about and he needed to have more control over as the captain because it's going to cost him dearly.

"They were not aware of the consequences. There he was at the press conference saying, 'I regret it and it won't happen again'. It's as if he didn't even realise what was likely to happen because of what he'd done even though he was confessing, as it were, that he was the guy in charge of what had occurred."

Fairfax Media has also reported Warner has become the central figure in Cricket Australia's ongoing investigation into the ball tampering scandal and is expected to be stood down for at least the Fourth Test in Johannesburg, beginning Friday.

That hunger to win is why Smith appears to have given no thought to the potential consequences of the plot.

It's why after two Allan Border Medals, countless record comparisons with Bradman, the ICC No. 1 test batting ranking and two ICC Test Player of the Year awards, Smith still cared more about winning.

In his 2017 autobiography The Journey: Steve Smith, the stood down captain nominates Australia's disastrous series loss to South Africa in November 2016, as the moment that made him the leader he is today.

Australia had just been crushed in the Hobart Test by an innings and 80 runs.

"I'm embarrassed to be sitting here, to be perfectly honest with you," he told media after the series defeat.

He demanded his team harden up.

He has never accepted anything less than determined, one-eyed pursuit of victory.

That trait was both the making of him and, on the third day in Cape Town, it was his downfall.