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Steve Smith’s Memorable Return In Whites – A Comeback For The Ages

August 3, 2019

On the opening day of the Ashes 2019 at Birmingham Steve Smith was making a statement. He was the best test batsman in the world when the Cape Town saga took place that left him banned took place. And now there he was, some 15 months later, telling the world that he was still the best test batsman around. No fuss, no frill – it was almost as if Steve Smith had never left.

The former Australian captain couldn’t have picked out a better stage to script a comeback and it couldn’t have come in a more challenging set-up either. It was a pitch that had tested every other Aussie batsman who walked out to bat and reminded each of them about how vulnerable they were against the moving ball. Smith himself was reminded of why he had been away from cricket and why his crown was lost as the Edgbaston crowd did their part to bring out constant boos and jeers. But Smith showed why he was the best. He stood his ground firm and by the end ensured that he would make the crowd forget about the sandpaper and thereby remind them that they were fortunate enough to be in the presence of a modern-day-genius and witness his masterclass.

Smith, like only he can, found his own way to overcome both the overwhelming conditions as well as the overbearing negativity that was directed towards him. And what did he do? He did what he does the best – remaining watchful earlier on, making sure that he survives at the crease, setting his feet in the right places, getting into the best positions to leave the balls outside off and most importantly finding ways to score runs – the essence of batting in its rawest form. He executed his skills to perfection when the challenge of executing his skills were the most extreme. The fact that he averages close to 117 whenever he bats on the first day of a test match speaks volumes of his incredible consistency. Thursday’s 144 was just a gentle reminder that he still belonged to the matching heights of staggering feats he had set for himself in prior to his suspension.

What makes his 23rd hundred probably the best of his all international tons was the fact that here he had to make up for the colossal failure of his teammates who succumbed to both clime and time, throwing almost everything away and leaving the Aussie no. 4 to wage a lone battle. That’s before Peter Siddle’s arrival at the crease with their team reeling at 122-8.

Smith walked into the crease in the 8th over of the day with Stuart Broad in full flight after getting the scalps of both the openers. But he looked confident from the first ball he faced. His strides were fine and so was the connection of his bat with the ball. His first boundary came off a flick to ball that was drifted down the leg side and it sounded right. Soon after he followed it up with an open-chested glide towards the wide of third man and he was away. He was now getting into his odd yet perfect positions, holding his typical shape – very similar to the way he used to get, and such was his confidence that the moment he was given out LBW while shouldering arms, he knew that he was not struck in the line.

Once Siddle and Lyon proved out to be the kind of allies he wanted his top-order to be, there was none stopping him. Hence England were not left out with many other options than to try getting wickets from the Smith’s opposite end only. The latter however was in no mood to leave. First he kept finding gaps with immaculate precision and then as he got some help from his partners he brought out his authoritative strokes – a fierce pull off Ben Stokes, a powerful straight drive against Joe Denly and a pick-up shot for six off Moeen Ali – all of those being treat to watch. He seemed to have picked up exactly from where he had left. His century came immediately after a trademark-Steve-Smith-cover-drive which is more about hands than about feet. And as soon as he got there he broke into an emotional celebration. He raised his bat towards the dressing room on numerous occasions as he looked a relieved as well as an elated man at the same time. Suddenly those unfortunate pictures of the sobbing Smith from the Sydney Airport press conference were disappearing very fast. He could now safely forget the past and move forward. He got emotional but never really got carried away with his emotions. As a result, at the end of the day England were seen to keep everyone back at the boundary for Smith. It was like complete surrender – surrender to a man who didn’t only triumphantly stood tall and guided his team but also to the one who rose above all the odds to stage one of the greatest individual comebacks the game has ever seen and perhaps will ever get to see.

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