Smith stamps his greatness on the game and stats books
Australia’s Steve Smith showed again why he is one of the finest batters of his generation before England fought back on day two of the second Ashes test at Lord’s on Thursday.
Resuming on 85 runs, Smith wasted no time in racking up his 12th Ashes century, making him only the second batter behind the great Donald Bradman to score that many tons in cricket’s oldest contest.
He clattered a loose ball through the covers to reach his hundred before raising both hands in the air and looking towards the boundary where his team mates had gathered to celebrate.
“It was a huge moment. I love playing here at Lord’s. It’s a nice place to play if you get in, you get good value for your shots and yeah, nice to get myself back up on the honours board again,” he told reporters after the close of play.
Smith’s second century at Lord’s after his match-winning knock here of 215 in 2015 was also one for the stats lovers.
It took him to fourth on the all-time runs list in Ashes cricket with 3,176, overtaking compatriot Steve Waugh (3,173). He is the fourth Australian to pass 9,000 test runs in his career.
His century also made him the fastest batter ever to reach 32 test hundreds, managing that feat in 174 innings, pipping Ricky Ponting’s 176 innings and Sachin Tendulkar’s 179.
As former England batter Alastair Cook put it bluntly to the BBC: “He is a run machine.”
Having reached 110 before mis-hitting the ball to gully for a fine catch by England’s Ben Duckett, Smith trudged slowly and visibly furiously back to the Lord’s pavilion, swishing his bat at imaginary balls and ranting to himself.
But in stark contrast to 2019, when he was booed on his return to the “home of cricket” in the wake of a ban for his part in a ball-tampering scandal, Smith left the field to warm applause from the crowd in appreciation of his achievement.
As commentator Daniel Norcross told the BBC: “He is the scourge of the English. He is the modern-day Bradman.”
Smith rues Lyon injury
Having scored his 32nd test century for Australia earlier on Thursday, Steve Smith found himself in the unusual position of skipping in to bowl the final few balls of the day to England captain Ben Stokes - not a job he appears to relish.
“Hopefully I won’t have to bowl too much,” he told reporters, having stepped in just before the close of the second day of the second Ashes test to relieve Australia’s tired fast bowlers following an injury to their regular spinner Nathan Lyon.
Lyon, appearing in his 100th consecutive test for the visitors, pulled up when running in to attempt a catch, and appeared to have strained his right calf.
That left Smith to bowl the final over of the day after Travis Head also put in a few overs of spin just before him.
“I haven’t been working on my bowling at all!” Smith said with a laugh when asked about his single-over stint.
“I thought Heady bowled alright. Heady’s probably the one that’s going to have a take a fair chunk of the spin, and then maybe myself and Marnus (Labuschagne) will chop in here and there,” he added when asked about the team’s options for the rest of the Lord’s test.
England’s Ben Duckett said the home side sent their best wishes to Lyon, an opponent they clearly respect.
“I really hope it’s not too bad for him. You never want see anyone go down with an injury. He was going to play a massive role in that fourth innings, he’s such a good bowler,” Duckett told reporters.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they go about it. If they keep going bonkers with all four (fast) bowlers they’ll be pretty tired by the end of it,” he said.
Smith said he felt the Australia squad had the resources it needed if Lyon’s injury were to put him out of action for any length of time, however.
“He could be a huge loss. However we’ve got Todd Murphy waiting in the wings. He’s been bowling beautifully in the nets,” he said.
“I’d be confident if he came in he’d do a terrific job for us. But fingers crossed Nathan’s alright.”
‘We’re in a great position’
England’s Ben Duckett expressed only mild disappointment at missing out on a hundred at Lord’s on Thursday, focusing instead on how well his side had responded to Australia’s first innings score of 416 on the second day of the second test of the Ashes.
Duckett hit 98 as England raced to 278-4 in reply in an another high octane “Bazball” batting display, only to sky a ball to David Warner for a comfortable catch.
“At the start of the day I’d have been over the moon if I was offered 98 but falling so close to scoring three figures here at Lord’s, yeah I’m obviously gutted about that. But I thought it was certainly my best innings in an England shirt,” Duckett told reporters after the close of play.
He said that for him the most important thing was to be true to himself in the way he plays his cricket, which in general entails attacking every ball without fear or favour.
“I’d have been gutted with myself if I’d gone away from it and gone into my shell and gloved one to the keeper behind,” he said.
“For three or four overs leading up to that I felt so comfortable hitting it for ones, and 10 metres either side of him (Warner) there I’d have got a hundred.”
“I always make jokes about never leaving the ball and sometimes I don’t know how I’m getting runs because of it,” he added.
Duckett fell during a wild hour in the middle of the afternoon when Australia seemed to bowl nothing but short aggressive balls and England seemed to do nothing but swing hard at every one of them.
For England’s part, that came about all by itself, according to Duckett.
“There wasn’t really any discussion. Everyone individually went about it differently,” he said.
“It’s the way we play our cricket. If they’re going to have plans like that and we’re going to go in our shells and get bombed out, people round the corner would be going totally against what we do,” he said, in a nod to some of the criticism of the team’s “Bazball” style of play named after their coach Brendon McCullum.
Overall, Duckett said he felt that England had had the better day and put themselves back in contention after Australia had looked set to put on a huge first innings score.
“From a position where they could potentially go on and score 500 I thought we fought back so well,” Duckett said.
“I think we’re in a great position.”