Ashes 2019: Australia saviour Smith wrests back control of narrative
Ever since that fateful day at Newlands in March, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have come to be defined by the ball-tampering episode that marred Australia's series in South Africa.
It is an unfair aspect of being in the public eye that one mistake can tend to overshadow the achievements that lead athletes to reach such a position of prominence in the first place and, having served lengthy bans, the Australia trio have had little opportunity to repair their images with stellar on-field showings.
Warner did so somewhat in the Cricket World Cup and Bancroft has impressed on the significantly smaller stage of County Championship Division Two but for Smith, the most admired of thet riumvirate prior to the saga that rocked Australian cricket, his redemption moment had not been forthcoming.
That was until Thursday, the opening day of the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston, where Smith brilliantly and at times brutally wrested back control of his own narrative with one of the finest and most memorable hundreds in the history of cricket's most prestigious series.
Even as one of the best batsmen on the planet, it would have been easy for Smith to wilt under the pressure in front of the raucous Birmingham crowd, one keen to remind of him of the Cape Town incident at every opportunity, and he had plenty of chances to do so.
144 - Steve Smith has a first innings Test average of 79 for @cricketcomau and displayed immaculate control during his knock (144) at Edgbaston, despite frequently losing partners early on. Fightback. #Ashes pic.twitter.com/qbrg52MuJy
— OptaJim (@OptaJim) August 1, 2019
He could have done so at 35-3, with Warner and Bancroft having already departed and England smelling blood, as they were after the hosts ripped through the rest of the middle order to leave Australia 122-8.
Nobody would have been overly critical of Smith had his resistance ended at that point. However, he was clearly in no mood for his innings to be in vain.
So often visibly angered by his dismissals during Australia's ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign, throughout his 219-ball stay Smith had the look of a man fuelled by desperation and determination for the focus to be shifted firmly back on to what he does best.
That much was evident in the indignant look he aimed towards umpire Aleem Dar as Smith emphatically and correctly signalled for a review after being given out lbw on 34, and in the way he ruthlessly took the game to a tiring England attack late in the day, racking up 16 fours and a pair of sixes and showing little regard for the spin of Moeen Ali and Joe Denly.
What made his contribution even more impressive was the way he counter-attacked while perfectly managing the situation, farming the strike and forming partnerships of 88 and 74 with tailenders Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon to take Australia to 284 all out.
Where does this rank among Steve Smith's best Test tons? #Ashes pic.twitter.com/9ZWgVmQpii
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) August 1, 2019
It was an innings befitting a captain. Though Smith no longer wears the armband, it was he who stood up and delivered when Australia most needed a saviour and, even in a stadium filled with boo-boys, there were few who begrudged him his moment when he brought up his 24th Test century with a glorious cover drive.
For all England's admirable exploits with the ball, it is the image of Smith standing arms aloft soaking in the adulation that is the abiding one of the opening day of the series. For all the sandpaper cards, jeers and chants about him "crying on the telly", it is Smith's remarkable display of obduracy and craftsmanship that will claim the headlines in England and Down Under.
What happened in South Africa will always be a part of his journey but, with the spotlight now back on his batting brilliance, Smith is finally the author of his own story once again.