Smith soars as Australia survive English broadside
Smith takes Australia to unexpected heights on topsy-turvy day
Australia’s Steve Smith celebrates his century against England at Edgbaston. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters
First Test, day one: Australia 284; England 10-0
Steve Smith is on the periphery no more. On his return to Test cricket with his side deep in the doldrums he struck his 24th Test century - and perhaps the most treasured of the lot. As he was embraced by his partner, Nathan Lyon, the applause from a crowd on its feet, eventually drowned the boos. At last he was back where he belonged darting around the crease like a puppet on a string, yet always in the right place to deal with the next delivery.
His innings was not a thing of beauty - they rarely are - but it was masterful display on a day when no other batsman hinted at permanency. His magnificent 144 meant that Australia posted a total of 284, which may well come to be regarded as very competitive as the match progresses. It was certainly far more than seemed likely when Australia had slumped to 122-8. It is hard to be sure about the other 10 in his team but Smith was certainly not intimidated by the Edgbaston cauldron. He dealt with the bowling and the boos as if he had never been away.
But for Smith England would be in complete control. He rarely suggests serenity at the crease and there are moments, often after leaving the ball, when he looks dangerously super-charged but his judgment was always sound; so too his execution. Moreover he changed gear adroitly when batting with an experienced tail of Peter Siddle and Lyon. He grafted and then he gallivanted, batting brilliantly in both roles.
Nor are Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, who shared eight wickets, on the Test periphery any more. Neither have been regulars in the England side recently yet both were invaluable to Joe Root on the first day of an Ashes series that lived up to expectations: a clatter of wickets, a belligerent counterattack and some umpiring decisions that offered excitement akin to that created by a roulette wheel.
The contributions of Broad and Woakes were crucial because by mid-afternoon, with Australia recovering to 99-3, Jimmy Anderson was renewing his acquaintance with a hospital scanner after experiencing “tightness” in that troublesome right calf. After this setback Anderson will surely have to prove his fitness in a proper game elsewhere before playing another Test match.
Woakes, who had not played a Test for England for 11 months until that little romp against Ireland, and Broad, only required for three of England’s six winter Test matches, delivered golden spells in mid-afternoon when six wickets fell for 28 runs. Then Smith, flying solo, took Australia to unexpected heights on yet another day of captivating, topsy-turvy cricket.
It all began with Tim Paine not being intimidated by the prospect of batting first yet it was not long before his side had lost three wickets in a bizarre first hour. After an Anderson maiden to Cameron Bancroft, David Warner flicked at Broad’s wayward first delivery outside leg-stump. There was a half-hearted appeal by modern standards, which was declined by the umpire Aleem Dar and not reviewed. The TV replays soon revealed that the ball had in fact touched the toe of Warner’s bat.
In Broad’s next over Warner was given lbw to a full-length ball delivered from around the wicket. This time up went Dar’s finger and the new, selfless Warner declined to review; by the time the TV replays were showing the ball missing leg-stump Warner was back in the pavilion. Inside 10 overs Bancroft and Usman Khawaja were there as well, though in Khawaja’s case the third umpire had to be summoned to verify the snick.
Soon it became apparent that something was amiss with Anderson since he was not summoned for a second spell; this coincided with a flurry of runs in the second hour when England lost their edge, as if they were coming to terms with the grim news that they were one record-breaking bowler down.
For 18 overs Travis Head gave Smith belligerent support. But once Woakes won an lbw appeal against Head the lower middle order subsided. Matthew Wade in his first Test for two years and his first as a specialist batsman, departed in the same way. Then Paine clipped an innocuous Broad delivery straight to Rory Burns on the square leg boundary.
Another umpiring error, the sixth of the day, coupled with a reluctance to review on the part of James Pattinson, delivered another lbw to Broad. Umpiring is a thankless task and just when Dar appeared to be experiencing a period of relative tranquillity, he was stung by a wasp. But he soldiered on.
So too did Australia after Pat Cummins was palpably lbw offering no shot to Ben Stokes. Now the Australian selectors had something to smile about. In the morning they had opted to include Siddle, the veteran, vegan Victorian, and he delivered superbly in his secondary role. In a partnership of 84 he accompanied Smith in the most calm, resolute manner, an imposter at No 10 (another one).
Once Siddle had been snapped up at short leg off Moeen Ali, Smith became the dominant imp alongside the faithful Lyon. Together they added another 74 in 13 overs with Smith improvising superbly and clubbing two sixes. Eventually he was bowled by Broad, swinging selflessly once more. Thus he became becoming Broad’s 100th Ashes victim, quite a landmark for the bowler. But it was Smith’s day. - Guardian