Steve Smith produced the finest innings of his career in his return to Test cricket, rescuing Australia with a stunning 144 on day one of the first Ashes Test against England.
Australia was in all sorts of trouble at 8-122 at Edgbaston but Smith saved the day, combining with surprise inclusion Peter Siddle (44) and Nathan Lyon (12 not out) to steer the tourists to a total of 284 all out.
Smith’s 24th Test century was clearly his best, the 30-year-old digging deep when he was really needed with a blend of patience and determination on cricket’s biggest stage.
He attacked England’s bowlers after reaching triple figures, too, finishing with 16 fours and two sixes in a 219-ball knock that will go down in history.
England spearhead Jimmy Anderson bowled just four overs before leaving the field with a calf complaint on a frustrating day for Joe Root’s side, who had to face two overs before stumps, finishing on 0-10.
Stuart Broad (5-86) was the pick of England’s bowlers, but the day belonged to Smith, playing his first Test since the ball-tampering saga.
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) August 1, 2019
He had to contend with being booed and jeered throughout his innings and when he arrived at the crease, the home fans did their best to put him off his game.
“We saw you crying on the telly,” they sung with gusto, making reference to Smith’s first press conference in Australia after the Cape Town scandal.
Renditions of “You’re gonna cry a minute” were also popular through the day, particularly when Smith was given out lbw on 34 and decided to review the decision.
As was the theme of the day, Smith’s review was successful.
“One of the all time outstanding Test innings,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Twitter.
“To do that in his first innings back in Test cricket is remarkable … sometimes you have to admire greatness.”
The umpiring was particularly poor throughout day one, a host of decisions either successfully challenged or later shown by technology to be incorrect.
One of those came in the second over of the day, David Warner nicking the first ball he faced down the leg-side, a deflection not spotted by umpire Aleem Dar.
England did not review the decision but did not wait long for Warner’s wicket, the left-hander given out lbw for two in the fourth over, a decision that would not have stood had the Australian reviewed.
He did not, though, and was in doubt as to what a noisy crowd thought of him as he walked off.
Broad, pumped up after dismissing Warner, then had Cameron Bancroft caught at first slip for 8 and Edgbaston was roaring when Usman Khawaja (13) also edged behind, off Chris Woakes (3-58).
Australia desperately needed a partnership and Smith combined with Travis Head (35), taking their side from 3-35 to 3-83 at lunch.
Head’s dismissal – lbw to Woakes – after lunch sparked a collapse of 5-23, though, as wickets fell at regular intervals.
Matthew Wade’s return to Test cricket did not work out, trapped lbw for one, and captain Tim Paine made just five before hitting a hook shot straight to Rory Burns in the deep.
James Pattinson and Pat Cummins came and went in quick fashion, too, both out lbw as Australia struggled to negate the seaming ball.
Broad, in particular, was outstanding in the second session, but Siddle came to the crease and gave Smith the partner he desperately craved.
Siddle simply defended well and played straight, his vital 44 providing exactly half of a gutsy, gritty 88-run partnership.
The Victorian fell at 9-210 and with Smith on 85, it seemed as if he may be denied a deserved century.
First Test back, first innings, 24th Test hundred – Steve Smith take a bow. 👏
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) August 1, 2019
Lyon played his No.11 role to perfection, though, defending when needed as Smith soaked up the strike and reached his century with an emphatic boundary through the covers.
Most of the crowd applauded but some, who went to the trouble of making masks of Smith crying, could not help themselves and booed the milestone.
With his century secured, Smith swung hard and often, regularly finding the boundary to the frustration of an England side who seemed at a loss at times.
And while Broad eventually ended Australia’s innings, bowling Smith, the sense of missed opportunity lingered, with the final pair adding 74 runs.
Jason Roy (6 not out) and Rory Burns (4 not out) got through two potentially tricky overs before stumps, but this was Australia’s day. It was Smith’s day.