It was a day of boos and cheers at Edgbaston. Steve Smith faced it all. Playing Test cricket after 16 months, Steve Smith made a brilliant century on the first day of Men’s Ashes. He rescued Australia along with Peter Siddle from 122-8 to 284, getting out as the last man after scoring an extraordinary 144. England was 10 for no loss by the end of day’s play.
The Top Order Collapse
After Tim Paine won the toss and elected to bat, Australia lost both their openers cheaply to Stuart Broad. David Warner was trapped in-front while trying to play across the line and Cameron Bancroft pushed at a good-length delivery and edged it to Joe Root. The English crowd gave a sendoff to both of them by showing sandpaper and booing at them. They welcomed Smith in a very similar manner. By the end of 15th over, Usman Khwaja has got out to a beauty-of-a-delivery from Chris Woakes. Smith joined hands with Travis Head in the rescue act.
Conditions were overcast. Broad, Woakes and Stokes were using scrambled seam and swinging it all over the place. Life was very difficult for the Australian batsmen at the crease. However, James Anderson was out of action due to his calf injury and the extent of the injury is yet to be revealed. Australia scraped through to 83-3 by lunch.
Woakes and broad had other ideas. They ran through the Australian middle-order with excellent seam bowling. Australia lost five wickets in a period of ten overs. Head, Mathew Wade, and Tim Paine got out in a very short period of time. Broad had taken 4 wickets by then, Woakes took 3 and Ben Stokes had removed Pat Cummins.
Not a day to be an Umpire
The Umpires had an off day as well. There were as many as seven wrong decisions in the day. Warner didn’t use the review, where replays showed that the ball was missing the stumps. Smith got one overturned when he was batting at 34. Wade wasn’t given out initially, only to be overturned. Pattinson was given out wrongly and he didn’t opt for a review. Siddle had a decision overturned for his quota. Umpires Aleem Dar and Joel Wilson were under scrutiny all through the day.
The Rescue act
Siddle came out to bat at number 10, while Smith was trying to stitch a partnership. Siddle played a perfect foil to Smith and kept the scoreboard ticking. With the ball getting older and a bowler short, England had to play the waiting game. The duo went on to make a 88 run partnership and take Australia to a respectable score. Siddle got out for 44, inside edging Moeen Ali to short-leg.
Nathan Lyon who came in at number 11, played his part to hang in there with Smith. He remained not out till the end as Smith scored a majority of the runs in the partnership. In the end, Smith got out to Broad trying to score quickly. Broad ended the innings with a five-wicket haul.
Century on comeback
Steve Smith went on to make a marvelous century. It was tough for any batsman to bat out there. He played close to the body, left a lot of balls, grinded his way through the innings. He saw his teammates fall like a pack of cards. Yet, he didn’t play his natural attacking game. For a large part of his innings, the strike rate was around 40. It was only after crossing his century with only one wicket in hand, he took his chances.
The way he batted post his century, gave us the glimpse of the Smith we know from the past. He was dominating every ball, picking gaps at will, getting into unorthodox positions like he always does. For every shot he played, for every gesture, for every milestone the crowd booed at him. But when he got his hundred, there was more applause than boos.
It was an innings for ages. A reminder to the cricketing fraternity that almost every other cricketer is a mortal and here is a genuinely great Test batsman. It also reminded us that Virat Kohli should be hungry to score the bulk of runs. Even if there’s a slight drop in Kohli’s form, Smith might end up at the top-ranking very soon. This is no exaggeration. Those who got to watch this innings will know that this is just the first of many more to come.