It was no ordinary day. Steve Smith well and truly completed his reintegration into the Australian and redemption from the decisions he took at the Newlands a year and a half ago. When Steve Smith left the Australian team in March 2018, it was in tatters psychologically and otherwise. When he was out in the middle in Edgbaston, they were in the middle of capitulation too and chose the perfect time to stage a comeback and pull off a rescue mission.
Steve Smith entered the ground at the eighth over when Stuart Broad had already taken two of his 23 wickets in the series. He walked to the hostile reception of the Barmy Army but little did anyone imagined that Smith would stride out of the ground with more generous applause and a standing ovation. That David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, his two colleagues from the Cape Town episode failed to calm their nerves, made it believable that Smith would learn the same fate.
Even though James Anderson walked out after bowling only four overs to never return for the series, Broad, Ben Stokes, and Chris Woakes found the zip, nip, swing and the desired bounce from the dicey wicket. The likes of Usman Khawaja, Tim Paine, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins could not catch and control the demons posed by the bowlers. Travis Head, Nathan Lyon, and Peter Siddle resisted just enough and stuck with Smith to help Australia to 284.
Meanwhile, Smith did survive a few close shaves two of which were from Broad. An awkward bounce from him had the ball edged through the slip cordon but turned out as safe, going for a boundary. The New South Wales lad played a leg glance off Stokes, which was a fingertip away from Bairstow behind the stumps from pouching it. Well before that, Steve Smith exemplified the advantage of knowing where his stumps were, challenging an LBW decision from Aleem Dar.
The batsmen padded to the nip-backer and hawkeye showed for the ball to miss the timber by an inch or two. At 122-8 on the first day, it seemed as if England set the tone of ruthlessly exposing the Australian batting line-up in their conditions. Siddle and Smith joined hands to combine for an 88-run stand that saved the tourists from stigma. Australia had a lot to thank Siddle for making 44 under massive pressure. But when Moeen Ali had him edged to short leg, Steve Smith was still 15 short of a memorable and 24th Test hundred.
Steve Smith soaks himself in the iconic moment:
By the time Steve Smith was only 15 short, his eyes were set on their bowling. Perhaps the question was whether Nathan Lyon could stick around for Smtih to complete his ton. Steve Smith treated the spinners in Joe Denly and Moeen Ali with disdain, tonking the latter over cow corner for a six to reach 98. In the next over after three dot balls, Smith played an imperious cover drive off Stokes that got to the fence.
The helmet came off along with a smile, the applause followed but buried in the chorus of boos. But as Smith did not care at the beginning of the innings, he could not anymore as he kept slogging the bowlers across the line continuously for quick runs. When trusting one of his many hoicks could not connect his willow and hit the stumps, he sprinted out of the ground to give the hosts some nervous times.
Ahead of the first Test in Birmingham, Australian captain Tim Paine was asked if England’s unbeaten record of 11 consecutive matches at the venue worries him. In response, Paine hit back by saying he could name 15 more intimidating grounds around the globe. Perhaps, Steve Smith was at the forefront of proving the point for Paine. When walking out of the Newlands in Cape Town after Morne Morkel dismissed him, the stroll was that of Smith holding his head down in shame.
A year later, it turned to maintaining his head and bat aloft after striking 144 as a handful of the crowd continued their accolades for a marvellous knock. The right-handed batsman struck another century in the second innings on day four, helping Australia to breach the Englishmen’s fortress.