Opinion: No amount of praise can be high enough for Steve Smith
He came to the crease at 17/2, after opener Cameron Bancroft nicked one to Joe Root at first slip off a Stuart Broad leg-cutter, and departed nearly seven hours later, having faced 219 balls on the way to amassing a mighty 144. Steve Smith, Australian cricket's new bad boy, (after the sandpaper gate fiasco at Newlands in Cape Town in March 2018) returned to Test cricket after more than a year and a half away from it with a knock that is surely going to go down as one of the best played in the Ashes.
The man from New South Wales was tortured and tormented by a nagging line from Stuart Broad and a variety of lethal cutters by Chris Woakes but nothing could prevent him from taking Australia to the safe shores and the relative comfort of a 250-plus score.
Backs to the wall
Earlier, a crisis descended when Smith was left stranded at the other end as Australia kept losing wickets at regular intervals; but in Peter Siddle, he found the most unlikely of allies at 122/8. The two stitched together a partnership of 88 runs and the game was slowly taken away from England's absolute stranglehold.
Smith's courage came to the fore as none of the booing or the flashy displays of sandpaper in the stands by the sell-out Edgbaston crowd could affect him. The former Australia captain walked on, played ball after ball with an unyielding calmness and slowly, but steadily, broke England's resolve. Sure, James Anderson walking off the field with a niggle worked in his favor but Broad, Woakes, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali were in no mood to let up the pressure and credit must go to Smith for wearing them all down.
Smith's partnerships of 88 and 74 runs with number-ten Peter Siddle and number-eleven Nathan Lyon, respectively, completely dismantled England's patience and the former must be proud of this epic knock on the first day of the new Ashes series.
Smith's innings was full of courage, conviction and suffering and it was his grit that stood out the most. Towards the end of his knock, his shirt was soiled with sweat, dust and mud but none of it bothered the unflappable former skipper. The shirt was just one casualty in his endeavor to rescue his country from embarrassment in the hands of the old enemy.
If England thought that they were going to be in for an easy day after reducing Australia to eight wickets in the forty-fourth over, they were hugely mistaken. Smith's gutsy knock revealed his ability to tell his detractors that the game was not over until he was beaten.
He was beaten outside off, bounced over his head and made to miscue drives but his resolve could not be broken. It's innings like these which show the world that technical brilliance is not everything that you need to succeed in cricket. It is also often the man who takes blow after blow but refuses to go down, who wins.
Smith's knock taught all of us, including the other batsmen in Australia's line-up, that the ability to possess the stomach for a fight and heart to take shots to the chin can, and mostly, will win the day for you. Australia were rescued by Smith at a time when they needed it the most and they cannot thank him enough. His innings is a testament to the best in Test cricket and certainly the best we have seen this year.
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