Steven Smith navigated through a shaky start to construct a fine innings © Getty Images
Steven Smith navigated through a shaky start to construct a fine innings © Getty Images

Steven Smith was already the talk of the town following his prolific series against India, where he scored four tons in as many matches. He then had a low score against West Indies but came back to score a brilliant 199 in the second Test to calm his critics down. English conditions test even the best of batsmen and Smith has been thoroughly tested during the Ashes 2015. Nikhil Popat relives Smith’s stay, his first big score of note in England.

A middle stump guard, a high back lift, front foot across, following the ball and then the bat comes down from second slip, to keep the cherry out. It is not normal, won’t work for everyone but it does for Steven Deverux Smith and that is exactly how he batted India into submission in the four Tests Down Under. His run scoring was so consistent that he kept getting the big scores to drive his team forward. MATCH REPORT: Rogers, Smith propel AUS to 337/1 at stumps on Day 1 of second Ashes Test

Smith came to England with a brilliant 199 to keep him in good shape, he was talked about by Graeme Swann, they talked about his technique, it was a sign of acknowledging the work Smith had done so far. But things did not go as planned for the Australian No. 3. He scored a handsome 111 against Kent in the warm-up game to set himself up but come the first Test, he got out for a score of 33 twice. In the first innings, he was starting to come good but then was caught in an awkward manner by Alastair Cook at short mid on and in the second he was worked over, to get caught at second slip. Coming to Lord’s with Australia one down, there was pressure on Smith and it showed on him as he came out to bat. ALSO READ: Steven Smith, Chris Rogers break Ashes record for highest 2nd wicket partnership at Lord’s

Smith started with a quick tap to cover for a single to get off the mark. Ricky Ponting on air said that’s how the Aussies play their cricket but this time Smith was not at his best, this was not the usual Smith.  It helped that he started against spin, it was just his fifth ball when he slinked down the wicket and drove the ball to the cover fence sweetly. It looked like this might be the day for him but there was more testers in store for him.

Mark Wood came onto bowl, fifth ball of the over, Smith wanted to leave one but hung his bat out, the ball slide of the face of the bat towards slips. Smith was distraught, he flayed his bat in the air in anger, this was not him. Smith looked at sea, coming in to bat just before Lunch on Day One. It helped that David Warner’s brisk 38 had given Australia a good platform to make use of and Smith could afford to take his time to get in.

Ben Stokes came on from the other end, beat him with a nice swinger outside off, Smith in form, in good mental space would have never played that but today he went after such balls and missed. Just minutes before lunch, Smith had a scare, he almost nicked off to second slip of the bowling of Stokes but for the ball missing his bat and hitting the trouser. The pressure on him showed in the next over, the last over before lunch when he drove at one outside off to get off strike. The ball went off the inside half towards mid on, he survived lunch but by whisker. ALSO READ: England must guard against complacency during 2nd Test at Lord’s

Even after lunch,  there were more plays and misses, more drives that went towards mid on which were intended to go to cover fence but Smith hung on. Anderson was bowling a good spell after lunch and that was when Smith played his best shot of the day, round the wicket, Anderson bowled a back of a length ball outside off, Smith stood tall and punched it to the cover boundary.

On the first day in bright and sunny conditions, Australians were batting at a run rate of just over 3. Smith had eaten up almost 80 balls to get to 33. Australians have been guilty of throwing away starts, Warner did that earlier in the day. Smith went past his score of 33 with a squirt down to the third man fence. His brought up his fifty in typical fashion, nudging one past square leg for a single. ALSO READ: Chris Rogers, is it really your time to retire?

He started to grow in confidence but was still edging the ball into the gaps as England kept bowling good lines and lengths to him. Even after getting to his fifty, Smith kept edging deliveries, he almost got out when he edged one very low to Ian Bell at second slip but for Bell to drop a tough chance. England then dropped intensity with Tea nearing and Smith played through to Tea.

Runs though started to flow freely for him post Tea as England were on the defensive by then. He started the last session with a couple of lovely hit boundaries to get closer to his ton. By now, the shuffle was in sync, the dab to the off side was more controlled.  He was on 87, Ali came onto bowl, he slinked down the wicket and tonked him over the sight screen for a maximum, nothing could stop him. He got to his century again in typical Steven Smith manner, a short ball outside off, which was swatted through mid-wicket for a boundary. Out came a roar, a release of pressure, joy, elation as he got to his tenth Test ton, fourth one vs England, there were a lot of talks about his technique and he himself was under pressure, he came on top after a tough, hard fought battle to notch up one his best Test tons.

By the time play ended on Day One, Australia had gone past the 300-run mark, the stand between Rogers and Smith went past 250 and most importantly, Australia’s best batsman had a hundred under his belt, runs of hard work, grit and determination. Well played, Smudge!

(Nikhil Popat is a cricket lover and a PotterHead. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)