Steven Smith finished the last Ashes series having scored 687 runs in seven innings so, really, there was little surprise that he began the next contest in similar vein. Except, of course, for everything that has happened since. He marked his return to Test cricket after 16 months with one of his finest hands, lifting Australia from an almost down-and-out 122 for 8 – with considerable help from the tail – to a position from which they could consider themselves ahead of the game, psychologically if nothing else.
Having gone to 98 with a six off Moeen Ali then tucking a single, a drive through the covers against Ben Stokes from his 183rd delivery brought up his 24th Test hundred – and it was no ordinary milestone. The emotions came flooding out as he celebrated then tried to compose himself with a few deep breaths and a look to the sky, taking in the applause along with a few remaining and largely foolish-sounding boos.
He had been beaten early on by the excellent Stuart Broad – most batsmen would have been – but once he settled there was barely a moment when he did not look in control despite the many problems of his team-mates, although was thankful for the DRS on 34 when he was given lbw playing no shot at Broad. By the end he was flaying England’s bowlers to all corners of (Fortress) Edgbaston including a monstrous, dismissive swing over the leg side off Broad three balls before he finally missed to end one of the great Test innings.
Away from the personal landmarks and epic backstory he had turned around Australia’s day in partnership with Peter Siddle, who earned the final place in the XI ahead of Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon. The last two wickets added 162 with Siddle contributing a superbly constructed 44, in a stand that firstly frustrated England and then began to deflate them, before Smith dominated the last-wicket alliance of 74 in 13 overs with Lyon which left them looking forlorn.
Summarized scores: England 10 for 0 trail Australia 284 (Smith 144, Broad 5-86) by 274 runs