No Fuss, No Frill - It's Like Steve Smith Had Never Left > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - No fuss, no frill - it's like Steve Smith had never left

At Edgbaston, Smith was making a statement. And you didn't need a recorder near him to either hear it or even save for posterity.

As a journalist, at times, you just want to stick a Dictaphone into Steve Smith's pocket on days when he's in the middle for a long time, which in Test cricket is rather often. The chances are you'll have your report ready by the time he eventually walks off the field. At least, by then he would have so many conversations with himself about his batting that you'll have enough content to play around with. The only challenge perhaps, would be that most of the talking Smith does with himself while he's batting, is through mimes-all that hand-waving, finger-pointing and also the apologizing to nobody in particular he indulges in-except the odd times you hear him verbally castigating himself for not having struck the ball where he wanted to or not having achieved a result with a shot that he wanted to.

On Thursday (August 1) at Edgbaston, Smith was making a statement. And you didn't need a recorder near him to either hear it or even save for posterity. You just had to be there in Birmingham to witness it. For, Smith was the best Test batsman in the world when Cape Town happened and he was banned. And here he was, 15 or so months later, telling the world that he was still the best Test batsman in the world.

He couldn't have picked a better stage to do it - his comeback Test, the first Test of the Ashes series in England. But it couldn't have come in a more challenging setting. It was a pitch that had tested every Australian batsman who walked out to bat and provided reminders to each of them of just how vulnerable they are against the moving ball. It was an Edgbaston crowd who had tried their level best to, with their constant booing and jeering, remind Smith of just why he had been away from cricket and subsequently lost his crown. By the end, he'd ensured that even they'd stopped booing and at times even made them forget about Cape Town and sandpapers. For, even the Hollies Stand in between all the booing seemed to realize that they were fortunate enough to be in the presence of genius.

Smith, like only he can, found his own way to overcome both the overwhelming conditions and the overbearing negativity directed his way. He did it by just doing what he does best: watching the ball and finding a way of dealing with it - no fuss, no frill. That's what it takes in the end really. That is the essence of batting in its rawest form - to find a way of making sure you survive at the crease and more importantly to find a way of scoring runs. And Smith has done a lot of both in his Test career already. The fact that he averages 116.78 whenever he has batted on the first day of a Test, following his 144 on Thursday, just tells you that he does so when the challenge of doing so quite often is the most extreme.

No wonder then that Smith spends more time than anyone else batting during the nets. There's always been a lot of talk about his obsession with doing so. But it's almost an OCD with him. To the extent that even on days when he's spent nearly 2 hours in the nets, he keeps his pads on, almost hoping like a greedy child that he might get another stint late in the day. At times, he does get his way too. The other day coach Justin Langer had joked about how the support staff draws straws to escape giving him throwdowns just because of how much he can wear you out. And the reason perhaps he is so pedantic is because he's realized a long time ago that he needs to be - whether he's trying to get his feet in the right place or getting into the best position to leave deliveries.

Here, Smith, also had to make up for the failings of his teammates, who had unlike him, succumbed to both clime and time and thrown it all away, leaving him to wage a lone battle. That is before Peter Siddle joined him with the score on 122/8.

Smith had walked out to bat in the 8th over of the day, with Stuart Broad in full flight. The tall seamer had already knocked out the two openers - Cameron Bancroft with the kind of delivery that would leave the batsman walking in as jittery as the one he'd replaced. But from the first ball he faced, a confident stride out and a well-connected drive to a slightly wide full delivery, you just knew Steve Smith was back. It just looked and sounded right. The only time perhaps England did possibly miss a step with him was the field Joe Root set for Chris Woakes. The widish leg gully in a way coaxed the hometown boy to alter his length slightly, and he ended up bowling a tad too short in that period of play, allowing the former Aussie captain to get his eye in. Having James Anderson exit the field after only four overs owing to a calf injury didn't help.

The first boundary for Smith too came off Woakes, the odd time he pitched it up and drifted towards his pads. It was a confident flick, that once again just sounded right. His second boundary came soon after, this time an open-faced glide off Broad to the wide third-man fence. Smith was away. He was now moving into his, odd yet perfect, positions the way he used to; so much so, that he knew the moment he was given out lbw after shouldering arms that he wasn't in line. He was now striking balls into odd yet perfect gaps the way he used to.

You knew then all England could do was try and get everyone else out at the other end. For, Smith wasn't in a mood to leave. And once Siddle and then Nathan Lyon proved to be kind of allies that he'd have expected the top order to be, there was to be no stopping him. It was in their company that he began producing the more authoritative of his boundaries, a fierce pull off Ben Stokes, a powerful straight drive of Joe Denly and a pick-up shot for six off Moeen Ali. It was like Smith had never left. The century came immediately after as he produced a classic Smith cover drive - more hands than feet - off Stokes before breaking into an emotional celebration. He lifted his bat to the dressing room on a few occasions and kissed his helmet before just blowing some air out, relieved and elated at the same time. Those unfortunate images of the sobbing Smith from the Sydney airport press conference were fast disappearing into the mental abyss. As he hugged Lyon and held his pose up another time, those unfortunate scenes from Cape Town too in their own way seemed to be headed the same way.

By the end of the day, England were in retreat and had every outfielder on the boundary to Smith. It was total surrender as Smith not only stood triumphantly in the middle, but also kept finding ways of scoring boundaries past that field.

For as much as he loves batting, Smith doesn't enjoy talking about it as much. Like with most great sportspersons, it's almost a case of him perhaps not thinking many to be worthy of getting to hear him talk about his art. And it's understandable too. Perhaps you do need to be at Steve Smith's level to understand just how he manages to do what he does, and that too so consistently.

"That's what you have to do I guess on that sort of wicket. Be willing to play the line of the ball and get a few inside edges down to fine leg or get beaten on the outside edge or try and use soft hands so it doesn't carry to the slips and things like that," is how he described his knock. During the press conference, which had a much different feel to it than the last two he'd done publically, he also spoke about the tough 15-month period where he'd lost his love for the game in between before thankfully regaining it. It was a poignant confession considering he'd just produced a special knock that lit up a day of cricket, which surely ended up rekindling a love for Test cricket around the world.

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