Smith soars as Aussies’ scintillating second innings sees England surrender
It all seemed so promising.
Hot off the back of their glorious World Cup campaign, England were invincible. Their bowling attack a heady concoction pace and skill. Their batting line up packed with more centurions than a Roman army. Ben Stokes a national icon.
England may have blossomed into the greatest side to play the short form of the game, but over a period of five days they wilt.
It would be unfair of me to chastise England’s heroes, who less than two weeks after clattering their way into the hearts of the nation in the infamous Super Over, stepped out to infatuated applause at Edgbaston.
Uniting cricket fans old and new, Ashes excitement had reached fever pitch. Edgbaston was rocking, with the Barmy Army enthused by the prospect of serenading their world beating idols whilst jeering the old enemy – a particular favourite was He’s Got Sandpaper in his Hands.
The crowd certainly did enjoy themselves. A blessing from the Pope, a visit from the Queen and even a recreation of the entire 1966 England Football World Cup Winning side (complete with a Bobby Charlton combover) added to an atmosphere that clearly stunned Australia.
This was demonstrated on day one as the tourists slumped to 122-8. With his test status under threat, Stuart Broad teamed up with local-boy Chris Woakes to rip through Australia’s side.
However, it was the man on the receiving end of the majority of the abuse, Steve Smith, who saved his country. The former captain hit a dogged 144 in the first innings. His performance oozed leadership as he grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and dragged his team to 284 all out.
Perhaps Smith’s ability to deal with a tirade of criticism is due to his exile after overseeing a ball tampering scandal in the previous series against England. The partisan atmosphere only seemed to propel the no. 4 on.
A maiden test century for Rory Burns brought personal relief for England’s opener as he led the hosts to a respectable 374 all out.
Even an injury to James Anderson, England’s greatest ever bowler, could not stop the jubilant crowd as they roared the cheap opening dismissals of pantomime villains Cameron Bancroft and David Warner in Australia’s second innings. Yet as centurion Smith returned to the crease, ‘Fortress’ Edgbaston showed its first signs of cracking.
Come Sunday the hooliganism of the Hollies Stand subsided as Smith, through an unorthodox technique and gritty determination, steadily crept to a second century. The peerless batsman’s 142 took his match-total to a staggering 286.
Without the world’s most prolific fast-bowler, Anderson, England looked like they had run out of options. This was only hampered when Matthew Wade added an admirable 110 as the game slipped out of England’s grasp.
Smith and Wade were not the only centurions in the third period, however, with England’s Moeen Ali getting hit for 130 with only one wicket to show for his troubles. The Worcestershire all-rounder has struggled with his batting form for a long time, with his spin game looking worlds apart from zippy Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
And it was Lyon whose constant knocking led to a quick and clinical destruction of England’s self-styled ‘Fortress’. His six-wicket haul was complimented by paceman Pat Cummins ripping through both England’s batting line up and claims of a deteriorating pitch.
The disappointing collapse left England 146 all out as Australia grab the upper hand heading to Lord’s, comfortably winning by 251 runs.
Suffering from a World Cup hangover? Possibly.
Hampered by injury to Anderson? Probably.
Outclassed by a resurgent modern great? Definitely.
Perhaps redemption is too strong, but Steve Smith’s determination to bounce back from cricketing oblivion to silence his critics is truly a story to be admired. Lauded as greatest ever Test batsman by ex-England captain Michael Vaughan, England must revamp their bowling attack to stop their superb summer being snatched by Steve Smith.