Leaving old blokes behind: Steve Smith's genius that foretold the fate of Ashes 2019 at Edgbaston
Batting on daddles, a pair of fidgety legs shuffled across the off-stump waiting for the bowler to attack the vulnerable middle and leg stump line. Bowling from the pavilion end, Chris Woakes obliged to the batsman’s stoicism and the result was a simple leg glance through the square leg for a boundary. Woakes’ reaction summed up what every bowler had gone through over the years hoping to exploit Steve Smith’s Bohemian trigger movement only to watch the ball hit the advertising hoarding.
With the Baggy Green scrambling at 17 for 2, a determined Steve Smith entered the field to an ensemble of boos echoing around Edgbaston and the boundary would’ve reminded the English of his batting prowess, which was once instrumental in helping his side regain the Ashes in 2017. While the English quicks reduced the Aussies to 122 for 8 on one side, Smith remained steadfast to carry his side to a modest first innings total.
The 30-year-old built steady partnerships with tailenders Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon to take the visitors to a respectable total of 284, a feat that looked improbable at one point. In doing so, Smith brought up his 24th Test century, showing the world that he is still Australia’s de facto leader with the bat. Smith’s 219-ball 144 was a combination of grit and tenacity coupled with spectacular hand and eye coordination as he dominated the English bowlers with ease.
While Smith’s knock was quite similar to Kohli’s century at the same venue a year ago, the context and the effectiveness of Smith’s ton comes out on top. On his way to an impeccable 149, Virat Kohli had a false shot percentage of 16 and was dropped twice, while Smith’s 144 saw him play a false shot percentage of 11 percent with no chances provided as the English bowling attack sans Anderson looked out of sorts against the former Australian skipper.
By the end of his first innings, Smith showed the world that he was just another man playing his heart out to keep his side on top and not the man trying to rewrite his tainted legacy. This was again evident given the constant sharing of wisdom with skipper Tim Paine on the field and with the way he began his second innings.
Walking in at 27 for 2, he took a different approach in the second innings by counter-attacking the English bowlers with a 61-ball 46 to ensure that his side gained a small lead by the end of day 3. Smith walked out on day 4 to a rather nervy, yet a shrill chorus of boos to do the usual. From leaving deliveries like a man squatting mosquitoes to effortlessly driving, flicking and dragging deliveries outside off to the mid-wicket boundary, Smith was playing a completely different game on a different wicket, when compared to the rest.
Every time he crossed a fifty, the boos started to become ambivalent and the hostile Edgbaston crowd started to understand that they were witnessing something sui generis, something on the level of Bradman. Smith’s eventual century in the second innings made him only the eighth batsman to score a century in both innings of an Ashes Test.
He batted long and batted England out of the game as the air inside Edgbaston was veritably sucked out by a man they love to hate. Smith’s approach in both the innings was contrasting to each other. The first innings was an example of his grit and mental fortitude to guide his side to safety, while the second innings was a statement to the English that he was ready to haunt them for the rest of the tour.
One factor that was common during both the innings was the constant huddles involving the senior members of the English side hoping to find Smith’s Achilles heel, only to end up looking clueless and abominable. The 1st Test of Ashes 2019 in Birmingham will definitely go down as part of Ashes folklore, sharing a similar status to the Headingley Test in 1981, owing to one man's brilliance that changed the course of a Test.
Smith’s performance was best summed up by Australian legend Steve Waugh who said, “He analyses every ball and it's like a computer, he spits out the answer." Cheer him or jeer him, Steve Smith is here to stake his claim as one of Test cricket's all-time greats and like Ricky Ponting said, “He's going to leave a lot of us old blokes behind, that's for sure."