SK Elite: Steve Smith century at Perth, 2013
Australian captain Steve Smith is currently the number one Test batsman in the world according to the ICC Test Rankings, and deservedly so, due to the sheer weight of runs that he has scored all over the world against a wide variety of attacks.
However, it all started back in December of 2013, when he scored his second Test century in the 3rd Ashes Test match at Perth, and helped Australia regain the Urn.
After England had been beaten thoroughly in the first two Tests, they needed to win or draw the 3rd one at Perth to keep the series alive and on the first morning, they had Australia in trouble.
Smith walked in at number 5, with the scoreboard reading 106-3 and Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke back in the hut.
With David Warner for company, Smith started the rebuild but departed soon after, and it was left to Smith to salvage the situation. He found it difficult to get going and in fact, scored his first run only off the 16th ball he faced, but this was a situation in which patience was necessary and he knew what was at stake.
Considering the enormity of the task at hand, it is also important to point out that till then, Smith had a poor record at Perth (average of 17 odd in six Test matches) and had to dig deep in order take Australia out of the hole they were in.
Smith had a specific plan when it came to his approach to his innings. He eschewed much of his attacking instinct and specifically refused to be drawn into strokes on the off side throughout the course of the innings.
He decided to play closer to his body and score bulk of the runs on the onside, as the English bowlers toiled but failed to induce him into a false stroke on the off side. He used the pull and the flick to devastating effect in this innings and when he reached his century with another pulled boundary, he had scored 80% of his runs on the leg side.
On the other hand, deliveries on the off stump were often left along or defended resolutely without any effort to score off them. Eventually, England's bowlers had to bowl to Smith's plans and that is when he capitalised.
Although he was incredibly patient throughout the innings, he still recorded a strike rate of 53.36 and scored 68 runs in boundaries (14 fours and 2 sixes).
An innings built around patient batting and avoidance of certain strokes requires the batsman to often score the bulk of his runs in boundaries and in that regard, Smith came out trumps in one of the most important innings of his career. The innings spanned 208 deliveries and 5 minutes short of 5 hours, which is why it is not an exaggeration to say that it was perhaps one of the finest innings played by Smith ever.
Moreover, he is an attacking player who likes to go on the offensive immediately, and leaving deliveries was then not something that he quite liked doing. Yet, he knuckled down at Perth that day and it is indicative of that approach especially when one considers the fact that out of the 208 deliveries he faced, 147 were dot balls.
If something on off stump wasn't particularly a poor delivery, then he did not try to make any contact with it. It was an innings of such rare quality that eventually the English bowlers wilted under pressure as Australia turned the tables on them, through this quite superlative innings from their future captain.
The WACA is one of the toughest grounds in the world for batsmen and other than the pace in the pitch, the heat during the Australian summer can get quite suffocating. The best batsmen can have moments in which they lose concentration and play a loose shot despite themselves.
Hence, the display by Smith should be counted among one of the best Test innings played in modern cricket. Although Smith had scored a century early in the year in the Ashes in England, this was the innings that made many sit up and take notice of his abilities as a superb Test batsman.
The innings was played under immense pressure, in tough conditions and at a time when the Ashes urn was on the line for Australia. He was eventually dismissed early on in the second day but by then he had, in the company of Brad Haddin, made Australia's position far more secure than it looked to be earlier.
Australia won the Test match by 150 runs and regained the Ashes, trouncing England 5-0. Smith's innings definitely had a hand in completely demoralising the touring Englishmen and giving his team the vigour they needed.