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Smith and Kohli – A tale of two summers and two classics at Edgbaston

Swarup Dutta
ANALYST
Feature
511   //    02 Aug 2019, 20:25 IST

Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Virat Kohli.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Virat Kohli.

On the first day of the Ashes 2019 battle, some of the wounded scars were stitched up and towards end of the day’s play, it looked so much like another battle in the same venue about a year back.

On that day, in response to England’s 1st innings score of 287, India stumbled to 148 for 6. They were facing the grave danger of conceding a decisive lead. Virat Kohli, their captain, had a lot going on in his mind. His previous tour to England in 2014 was nothing short of a disaster. In ten innings of that series, he totaled 135 runs, averaging 13.5 per innings.

Jimmy Anderson, his nemesis, got him repeatedly dismissed, mostly nicking outside the off stump. He was back to England, now as a captain, with a reputation at stake and his side in deep trouble. In the end, Virat's heroic 149 took India to 274.

The situation was equally challenging for Steven Smith yesterday, if not more. He last played in Test Cricket in March 2018 against South Africa in Cape Town. The disastrous events there are well known and Smith has been absent from Test Cricket since then.

True guts

Even though he had played few ODIs, there were lot of question marks on whether he would be that good again when he comes back to Test Cricket. Then, the mental challenges he had to go through were enormous.

The agony of a ban, being called by whatever names people wanted to and then, making a comeback in front of the English crowd – all constituted a backdrop, which looked epical in nature. On top of that, Australia slipped to 122 for 8 on the first day.

The build-up of both the innings were very similar. Kohli left a lot of balls outside the off and was lucky when he was dropped early on. Smith gave no chance, but played cautiously, picking up mostly singles and couples on the leg side.

But, both exploded after reaching their individual hundreds. Being put on the back-foot, Joe Root reacted in a similar manner like last summer. He put nine fielders on the boundary line, asking the batsman to take singles. Kohli and Smith both reacted violently and brilliantly. They continued to pierce the in-field to reach the ropes. Both managed to take a 160-kind of score to close to 300. Both were classics in their own right.

Will it be enough?

Smith's 144, with Australia being at 122 for 8 at one stage, is an all-time classic
Smith's 144, with Australia being at 122 for 8 at one stage, is an all-time classic
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Coming back to the current match, the million-dollar question is whether the 284 score would be enough or not (At the time of publishing this article, England had already reached 170/2 at Tea on the second day). Again, it was seen in the previous summer that Kohli’s single-handed effort was not enough for India, as far as that match and the series result were concerned. Similarly, Australia need a few of their other batsmen to raise their hand and be accountable.

Unfortunately for them, players like Mathew Wade looked extremely vulnerable in these conditions. Even the captain, Tim Paine, played an unbelievably poor shot to get out. Peter Siddle showed awesome courage along with Smith in that partnership. But, to win the Ashes, Australia would need contribution from their batsmen, which would take some load off Smith’s shoulders.

England have weaknesses in their batting too. But, they may have more batsmen contributing collectively together and that could be the crucial difference. Another huge factor would be the absence of Jimmy Anderson from the England bowling line-up.

However, the Smith classic can be reminisced about for ages, whatever be the outcome. It was well worth the wait.


Also read – Ashes Most Ducks

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