Ashes 2019: Infallible Steve Smith takes twisting first Test by scruff of neck to put Australia on course for victory

The Australian became just the fifth man to score twin tons in 142 years of Ashes fare

Adam Collins
Edgbaston
Sunday 04 August 2019 20:43
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The Ashes in Numbers

In the bar at the Kingston Cricket Club, located at deep mid-wicket at the mighty Sabina Park, there are scores of cricket bats hanging on the wall. They don’t recognise anything that specifically relates to the historic venue itself, or Caribbean cricket at all for that matter. Rather, the bats take pride of place to recognise those who have achieved what Jamaicans consider the most mighty thing a batsman can in the game: score centuries in both innings.

It was on this ground in 2015 that Steve Smith, having just graduated to the fabled first-drop position in the Australian line-up, fell one run short of recording his first Test Match double century. On 199, the DRS sorted him out leg before wicket. It didn’t matter that much, he was man of the match, Australia won and he went on to bank the first of his two doubles four weeks later at Lord’s. But it is only now that he will have a Twin Tons bat on the wall; just the fifth Australian to complete this particular feat in some 142 years of Ashes fare.

Before all that, when Smith arrived for the fourth morning the 46 runs that he added before the close the previous evening meant nothing. His first innings miracle would be irrelevant as well, in terms of the match position, if he fell straight away. But this was never going to happen, or so it appeared from the earliest exchanges. The first hour of the day was the most important, 52 calm runs added when building the lead from 34 overnight. A stand of 100 followed, then Smith’s half-century, then Travis Head’s, then the 100 lead. Backing up the 35 he made in the first innings, the newly-minted vice-captain is very much in this series.

But when he fell not long before lunch, there was still plenty to do. His dismissal was both unlucky – he easily could have been reprieved by the third umpire for a back-foot no-ball – and against the flow of play. Ben Stokes gave it big; the crowd responded accordingly. They had put on 130 but the lead was 115. On afternoon one, when their union was broken, a collapse of 5/23 followed. Not today, though. It is conceivable that Matt Wade would have been dropped for Lord’s if he failed a second time. Perhaps, fueled by that, he played with the aggression that he is defined by. Joe Root made the mistake of keeping Joe Denly at this point and the Tasmanian took full advantage, racing to 15 from 17 balls at the break.

By this stage, Smith was doing Smith things. Clipping one to midwicket on 93, he flicked his back leg in the air for reasons best understood to him alone. After lunch, from the first ball he saw from Stuart Broad, he threaded a packed off-side field with a picture-perfect cover drive – nothing but net; swish. Where dignified emotion defined his celebration upon reaching three figures on Thursday, this time he smiled and smiled. There was nothing more to do.

That he has now made 25 Test hundreds in 119 hits is absurd, but for another day. In keeping with the theme of his first innings, there was work still to do. An eccentric lightsaber leave came from the ball after the milestone – code from Smith, as he has explained in the past, that he has decided to shift to an even more intense level of concentration. That he had 12 pairs of gloves on the field all day, rotating between them in his usual pedantic way, highlighted that had he his way - there would be no giving it up. Despite how very in the game England could be even now if they removed him, they looked more broken by the over. Nothing worked.

With Wade beyond 50 with a reverse sweep, their partnership now passed 100. When Smith finally did make an innings-ending error, edging Chris Woakes’ widest delivery of the match, the lead was 241. According to the CricViz win predictor, when Smith walked out 24 hours earlier, Australia were at an 11 per cent chance of victory. One hundred and forty-two runs later, 96 of which were made in 146 deliveries on Sunday, England had stumped to eight per cent. Even the Hollies Stand hooters – those with any meaningful appreciation of the game, in any case – applauded.

Steve Smith smiles in the field after turning the match on its head

There was nothing more lovely, as Wade reached three figures himself, him being lifted off the ground by Tim Paine. Despite playing backyard Test Matches together growing up in Lauderdale, a suburb of Hobart, this was the first time the oldest friends had represented their country together after two long and complex international journeys. They advanced the score beyond 400 before the century-maker – on 110 from just 143 balls – holed out. Now the lead was impregnable – 317. Party time with James Pattinson, who cleared the rope four times before the declaration – made it 397. England had coughed up 363 runs in 81 overs.

Remember, this was the side who were 122/8 on day one, trailed by 90 on the first innings and lost both openers in the second dig before getting out of first gear – well in the red. But because of Smith and his middle-order colleagues, had batted the hosts out of the game. A Test that spent three days twisting now has only two viable results left. It was some 18 years ago to the day that Australia retained the Ashes in 2001 – the last time they won a series in this country. Tomorrow, with Nathan Lyon at the ready, they will surely go one-up. If and when they do, make no mistake, it will go down as one of their most famous victories.

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