They said it would never be achieved again. But they probably did not know of Steve Smith.
Don Bradman hit 974 runs in the 1930 Ashes series, a mark that has never been surpassed in any series in Test cricket’s rich history.
Smith enters the fifth and final Ashes Test with 671 runs, a feat made even more incredible by the fact he has only batted five times in England.
The 30-year-old could not bat in the second innings of the second Test at Lord’s due to delayed concussion symptoms and was then ruled out of the Leeds clash.
But his scores of 144, 142, 92, 211 and 82 have helped Australia retain cricket’s famous urn, Tim Paine’s men leading the series 2-1 heading into The Oval finale, which starts on Thursday evening (AEST).
WAS THERE ANY DOUBT! Smith grabs another Player of the Match award!
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) September 8, 2019
Smith would need 304 runs in London to eclipse Bradman’s record and while it seems a tall order, he fell just 11 runs shy of that mark in Manchester.
That 185-run victory – achieved in the last hour of the Old Trafford fixture – sparked big celebrations among the Australian touring party as they retained the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001.
Another goal is at play now. Australia is desperate to win the series, with paceman Josh Hazlewood hoping the “special time” can continue.
“We’ve come here to The Oval to win the series and win the Ashes. It’s awesome to retain them but we want to win the series on English soil,” Hazlewood told ESPN Cricinfo.
Smith and the out-of-form David Warner may benefit from a pitch normally conducive to high scores.
In the past three Tests at The Oval, nine centuries have been scored, and Warner would dearly love a triple-figure knock having made scores of 2, 8, 3, 5, 61, 0, 0 and 0 in a frustrating series.
Steve Smith does everything in his own special way!
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) September 7, 2019
Smith has made centuries in both of his Tests at The Oval, making 138 not out and 7 in 2013 before he made 143 two years later.
Following the Manchester defeat, England captain Joe Root has been criticised but is insistent he is still the right man for the job.
This match will be England coach Trevor Bayliss’s last, while injured bowler Jimmy Anderson has questioned the state of the pitches used during the Ashes.
“I think they’ve probably suited Australia more than us. I would have liked to have seen a bit more grass,” he said in a Telegraph story.
What will the teams look like?
Mitch Marsh has won a recall, replacing Travis Head as Australia looks to support a tired group of bowlers.
The three-day turnaround between Tests was undoubtedly in Marsh’s favour, with the all-rounder set to bowl plenty of overs at The Oval.
Another change could be on the cards, too, with Peter Siddle – who did not play in Manchester – waiting in the wings to step in for any of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc.
England has already announced its team, with Sam Curran and Chris Woakes replacing Jason Roy and Craig Overton.
The changes give England more bowling power, with Ben Stokes to play as a specialist batsman due to a shoulder injury.
The axing of Roy means the experiment with the attacking batsman is over.
What do the stats suggest?
Australia may have won at The Oval in 2015, but it has only won three times at the venue since 1948.
Of the past 17 Tests at the venue, nine have finished in draws.
Will it rain?
A move to London coincides with better temperatures and the forecast suggests, amazingly, there will be no rain during the Test.
That is subject to change, of course, but the sun should even be shining for most of day two, three and four, a welcome relief to players and spectators who shivered through much of the Manchester clash.
Any word on the pitch?
A batting-friendly surface is expected at The Oval, which should help a series of struggling top-order batsmen.
How do I follow the Test?
The Nine Network and Gem will broadcast the match on television, with coverage beginning from 7.30pm (AEST) on each night of play.
You can also stream the cricket on 9Now and watch on any device.
Audio coverage is available on ABC Radio and The New Daily will provide a wrap of each day’s play in your morning newsletter.