It couldn’t have been scripted better. The blot of Sandpapergate scandal was still fresh. The stage was as big as it could get - The Ashes. The Barmy Army was red hot to go after Steve Smith. But as the legend goes – Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Smith stood up to the occasion. While everyone thought the one-year ban, coupled with elbow surgery, would have reduced Smith’s skill to half, it seemed to have doubled it.
Hailing from the elite 2008 U-19 World Cup batch, Smith along with Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson display a skill that sets them apart For their iron-coated mental strength Smith’s tons in consecutive innings of the 1st Ashes Test is not a testament of his batting prowess, but to his mental stamina. His ability to fight back, to stand up against the hostile crowd, to hold the prestige of the Baggy Green, is a story that will travel generations.
The scorecard read 17/2 when Smith walked out to bat in the first innings of the 1st Ashes test. The crowd erupted with boos and jeers. It thought it could break him. But Smith shrugged it off nonchalantly as he composed himself to take his stance. The unorthodox shuffle towards the off-stump as the bowler delivered the ball, the smooth flow of hand, precise hand-eye coordination, Steve Smith was here to stay. The wickets on the other end kept tumbling.
But Smith held his fort. With a textbook cover drive, Smith reached his 24th hundred. The English spectators felt so helpless. Some applauded while others sat in disbelief. The Aussie camp, however, was on its feet, jubilant.
The expression on everyone’s face said that they had won the match. But Smith stayed focused. For him, it was a mere 100 hundred runs that helped his team stay alive. He was hungry for more. Thanks to his 144, Australia posed a respectable 284 in the 1st innings.
England came out with authority and on the back of Rory Burns’s century, posted a daunting 374. The pitch was deteriorating, batting was to get difficult. And difficult it got. Australia again got off to a poor start. Smith, who had been out on the field the longest, walked out yet again. Not for his image-building but to get the Baggy Greens out of trouble, again. This time the Aussie team didn’t desert Smith. Smith forged partnerships with Usman Khwaja,
Travis Head and Matthew Wade. Courtesy the intent of his partners, Smith was even more sublime. And then something remarkable happened. Smith became the fifth Australian cricketer to score tons in both innings of an Ashes test. The last to do so was Matthew Hayden back in 2002. His 25th ton was the second fastest after Sir Don
Bradman. And mind you, Smith hadn’t played a single test in his suspension year. Centuries by Smith and Matthew Wade in the second innings took Australia to 487/7. Tim Paine declared the innings, leaving England to chase a mammoth 398 on a fifth day Edgbaston track. Nathon Lyon on the fifth day was unstoppable and England were all out for 146.
There was a lot for Smith to celebrate - He overtook Cheteshwar Pujara to take the No. 3 spot in the ICC Top 10 Test batsmen, was declared the man of the match in his first test post the ban and helped his team get back to winning ways.
As he collected his award, the English crowd couldn’t help but applaud. As Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”