Ashes 2019: Steven Smith - Return of the King
March 24, 2018:
You are on top of the world.
You are widely regarded as part of the Big-four, and possibly the best among them when it comes to Tests. Not many disagree. Some have christened you the second coming of Don Bradman, and it is not without merit. With a Test Batting rating of 947, only Bradman's 961 is ahead of you in all of cricketing history.
You have been awarded the 2017 ICC Test Player of the Year. You are also the Australian Test Player of the Year, 2018. You have just been awarded the Allan Border Medal for excellence.
You have been openly called "The difference between the two sides" by the opposite captain, as your team retained the 2017-18 Ashes in scintillating fashion with a 4-0 triumph, where you also scored three centuries and two fifties to take home the Player of the Series award.
You are Steven Peter Devereux Smith, you are on top of the world. Well, you were anyway.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And the better the world liked seeing them fall."- Loretta Chase
You were the biggest. Of course the world loved seeing you fall. They watched as you sat behind the microphones at the end of day's play. They scrunched up their noses as you said it was a piece of adhesive tape, a reckless attempt to change fortunes.
You could do nothing as the country around you boiled with rage and called for your head. You knew this would happen. Why not? For a country that was as proud of its sporting achievements more than anything, this was the cardinal sin. You had soiled the one thing they held close to their hearts. Nothing would make them forget this.
You watched from the sidelines as they stripped you of your captaincy, stripped you of your match fee and handed you a year's suspension. You listened behind closed doors as politicians called you a disappointment. There was nothing that could be done. You knew this would happen.
Five days later, you confessed that it had been sandpaper. You confessed that it had been planned. It had not been an impulsive decision by one youngling, but a conscious decision by the "leadership group". You wouldn't rat out who they were, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
Two days later, try as you did, the tears did not stay back in front of a barrage of cameras and questions.
"I made a serious error in judgement, you said. I know I will regret this for the rest of my life," you admitted.
Oh, you were on top of the world. How easy it is to fall.
August 1, 2019:
Your opponents - your arch-nemesis, England - are now the Champions of the World.
It is the eighth over of the first day, and things could not be worse. Edgbaston hosting the first test of the Ashes is no mere co-incidence. This is where England are at their comfortable best. This is where they decide to crush the visiting side's spirits. This is exactly where they want you.
Your co-conspirators are back in the pavilion already. The boos have only just begun, and they will only get louder. This almost feels like destiny.
As you walk out, one confident foot in front of the other, all you can see around you are the things you don't want to see. Sandpapers. Masks of your breakdown. Reminders of your mistake. Remnants of a past you will do everything to erase.
But there is nothing else to do. At 17 for 2, there is nothing else to do but bat.
So you do the one thing you have spent the last year and a half dreaming about. You put your head down and drown out the noises that want you to get out. You drown out the voices of those who gave up on you. You drown out the voice in your own head that wants you to feel nothing but shame for yourself.
It only takes you 11 balls to find the middle of your bat. The ball goes racing along the ground like it was meant to be. The crowd hate it.
By the time it is lunch, you have a new partner. You have crawled to 23 and the noise has died down a little, but you know 23 isn't enough. Nothing will be enough, but you will do it anyway. You will do it anyway.
Partners around you are crumbling. The house of cards is falling. You have held up one end, but the other end is leaking. Before you know it, five more have left the ground with bowed heads. The scoreboard reads a paltry 122, 42 of them off your bat. It is not enough. Nothing will ever be enough.
Out walks a 34 year old, Peter Siddle, a veteran of 11 years and over 64 Tests. He doesn't know batting, but he knows what it is to hang in there. Sometimes, that is all one needs to know. Now, you know it too. You have hung in there. You will hang in there.
You are not above mistakes today. You swing and miss. You leave balls that are just wide. You take your chances and the edges land safe. It almost feels like destiny. Almost isn't good enough now.
It takes you 119 balls to get to your fifty. You will take another thousand balls if it gets the job done.
You make it past tea. You and your partner, standing tall against the English bowlers raining down holy fire. You survive, and then survive some more. When the balls are bad, you make the most of it but it is all about surviving.
Almost 24 overs pass before your partner falls. He has done his job. More than that. But it is still not enough.
With the last man in, you go on with what you came here to do. The runs tick on. Slowly. Sometimes faster. But they tick on. On and on. On and on.
Then, it finally arrives. Your 183rd ball. You drill the ball through the covers, just like in practice. Three, you call. Three, you run. Three digits are there beside your name. 102.
The sandpapers do not go under the sides. The masks do not come off. The boos only get louder. They hate you more, if that was even possible.
Of course it was possible. You have given them the worst sight imaginable. You showed them that you could come back from your worst mistakes. You showed them hope. You smile and you smash the air and you look back at the dressing room you have longed to become part of again. Your teammates clap in rapture, as do some parts of the crowd.
But it is not enough. It will never be enough.
You put your head down and get on with it. By the time they can get you, you have scored 144, and your team 284. More than half of it is yours. The score is just around par, you hear them say. But it doesn't matter anymore.
You walk back, head held high for the first time in a long time. It is not enough. It will never be enough. But it is a start.
You have been on the sidelines for too long now. A start is all you need.
"I know I will regret this for the rest of my life, you had said. I hope in time I can earn back my respect and forgiveness:, you had pleaded.
You will regret that for the rest of your life. You may not earn back your forgiveness. But your respect is here. You earned this on your own. Deserve's got everything to do with it.
You wandered. You had been lost. But now, you are here again. The crownless again shall be King.
You are Steven Smith. You are on top of the world.
Also read – Ashes Most Centuries