The Article was scheduled for much later in the series, yet Steve Smith with his Edgebaston performance in the first Ashes 2019 test wrestled his way up.
Smith was playing grade cricket at 16 and handed his baggy blue New South Wales cap at 18. He had already learned to hold his own. When an older opponent spent hours sledging him, Smith eventually asked: “Mate, how old are you?” “Thirty” came the reply. “And you’re still in second grade?”
From then on Smith batted in relative peace. Smith came back with the same peace and determination after the sandpaper scandal.
Steve Smith was born on June 2, 1989, in Sydney, the son of Peter and Gillian. Mark Waugh and Michael Slater were his heroes. But Smith’s batting shows neither Waugh’s elegance, not Slater’s hustling flamboyance.His biochemist dad used to work from home, and coach young Steven once his school was finished for the day. His mother is from Kent, and Steve has always a flair for playing in England.
Smith earned a Test debut, aged 21, against Pakistan in 2010, as a leg-spinning all-rounder at No. 8. He knows now he wasn’t ready, but he learned plenty. He was brought in by Australia in the hope for finding a replacement to Shane Warne, but he ended up being an excellent replacement to Ricky Ponting.
Older and wiser, he returned to England in 2013, initially as vice-captain of the Australia A side that was shadowing the Champions Trophy team in the last days of Mickey Arthur’s coaching tenure. A hundred on a seaming pitch in Belfast earned Smith the final place in the Ashes squad, in a selection meeting that occurred minutes before Arthur’s sacking.
Against England his fortunes oscillated, but he reached his first Test hundred with a clumping six off Jonathan Trott at The Oval.
Since then, he has been making hundreds at will in England and winning matches for Australia with regularity. His approach to batting in England is very well thought of. He said in an interview, “It’s about playing the ball late, and making sure you’re not out in front of yourself. In Australia you can play out in front a little bit more because the ball doesn’t do quite as much. When you’re under pressure and your heart’s pumping, you almost go back to what you know. So it’s making sure you stay in the bubble of the way you want to play, and not revert to the way of playing in Australia.”
When Steve Smith first appeared in an Ashes series, in 2010-11, he told the press it was his job to “be fun”. The media’s mirth was merely heightened when he proved neither technically nor mentally ready, in a series England won 3–1.
Smith disappeared from the Test side, but re-emerged two years later as a cricketer who had embraced his strengths and shaved off some rough edges. His evolution into a high-class batsman coincided with the last days of a dramatic era in Australian cricket. Smith found himself moving up the order – not only of batsmen, but of leaders. And, by the time he arrived in England for 2015 Ashes, he was anything but a laughing matter. The 2015 Ashes twice showed Smith at his very best, as he followed a coruscating double-century at Lord’s with a match-shaping 143 at The Oval. It also revealed how reliant on him Australia had become: when, in between, he failed twice at both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, the team failed with him. He ended the series nursing plenty of pain, but with more runs (508) than anyone on either side and cradling a fresh commission as Australia’s Test captain.
Smith arrived for 2015 Ashes as the world’s top batsman, promoted to No. 3 in the order. He squandered a pair of starts at Cardiff, but then found a willing ally at Lord’s in Chris Rogers, who provided a sturdy counterpoint to the swash in Smith’s buckle. Their first-day partnership dictated the course of a match he will always remember fondly. “We played extremely well,” says Smith. “It was a place I’d never had much success, so I was pretty keen to turn that around. To get my name up on the board with 215 is pretty special.”
But heavy defeats on seaming pitches in Birmingham and Nottingham gave Smith a sobering reminder that he was not as in control of his game as he thought. With the Ashes gone, it would have been easy to coast through the final Test at The Oval. But he was desperate to learn from his mistakes. “There were a few things I was doing with my technique that had crept in. My prelim movement was going a little bit too far, which squared me up a couple of times, so I played at balls I probably didn’t have to play at.” Smith’s century helped set up an innings win to give Clarke and Rogers a suitably triumphant farewell and offered a glimpse of what might be achieved when he next returned to England as an Ashes tourist.
In the meantime, the Sandpaper Scandal in South Africa rocked the cricketing world, and rattled the careers of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. All three were banned from playing international cricket. They served their time and made comebacks immediately after that. Warner and Smith in the 2019 World Cup, and Bancroft in the 2019 Ashes. Smith and Warner made runs in the World Cup and started their Ashes campaign with some confidence. Though Warner failed to make an impact in the first Ashes Test, Smith was all over the match, and the test now, fittingly called as Steven Smith’s test match.
Smith walked in when Australia were in a tight corner in the first innings, having lost both the openers for a mere seventeen runs. He hadn’t slept the night before, understandably so. It was his comeback in International Cricket after having been banned for being caught in the shameful act of tampering the ball with a sandpaper. Pride, Reputation, and Honour, all were at stake. Yet, he looked unperturbed. After the initial fight to get his eye in, which lasted for nearly 100 balls, Smith was in Zone. However, by the time he got his eye in, Australia were in shambles, 122 for 8. Peter Siddle had played some innings of great character, so had Nathan Lyon, but both were tail-enders, and couldn’t be counted upon. Yet Smith farmed the strike admirably, letting Siddle (and later Lyon) have the strike only when they had started feeling confident. Both Siddle and Lyon did their bit, and showed application and afforded Smith the required support to go on to make his hundred. Once he reached his 100, Smith went berserk, and added further 44 runs to his score in double quick time. The last two wickets had added 162, and Australia had a somewhat respectable total of 284 in the first dig.
England replied with 374, riding on Rory Burns’ 133 and Stokes’ even 50. Australia started their second innings 90 runs in arrears. On the seaming pitch, it was a big lead. The openers again departed quickly, and so did the first drop Khwaja. But then, Travis head (51), Matthew Wade (110), Tim Paine (34), James Pattinson (47) and Pat Cummins (26) steadied the ship and guided the innings to safe waters, beautifully complementing Smith’s second hundred of the match (142). England were set 398 to win. Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins nonchalantly wrapped up the hosts for 146, sealing a huge 251 run victory for Australia, and with 1-0 lead, the tone for Ashes 2019 was pretty much set.
That is the power of Steve Smith. While he bats, he looks in complete disarray, ugly, at times funny, but he is seldom ineffective. He is second to Don Bradman in averages for a player who has played more than 40 tests, he is equally effective in all the parts of the world, and invariably steers his team out of danger when the chips are down.
He is without a doubt the Most Valuable Player for Australia. Stay tuned for more on the series-Ashes Heroes.