Saviour Steve Smith enters ‘The Don’ territory

25th November 2017 5:52 PM
Steve Smith pounds his chest, urging his teammates to follow his lead after notching his 21st century. Steve Smith pounds his chest, urging his teammates to follow his lead after notching his 21st century.

STEVE Smith has soared into a stratosphere occupied by the game's greatest players as he delivered the rallying cry that could shape the course of the Ashes.

There may be no more important innings in this series than the epic masterclass Smith produced on day three at the Gabba, a memorable century the captain marked with a passionate beat to his chest, as if to implore his comrades to come with him.

The call to the dressing room was soon answered, as Josh Hazlewood bounced back from a poor start to the Test to lead a blistering onslaught with the new ball that left England ducking for cover and fighting for survival at the Gabba.

England will resume at 2-33 with Joe Root and Mark Stoneman desperately trying to get their heads above water, currently just 7 runs in front.

Hazlewood (2-11) had Alastair Cook hooking falsely to be caught brilliantly by Mitchell Starc on the boundary, before nicking off James Vince straight into the bread basket of a rampant Smith.

Starc then cannoned a ferocious bouncer straight into the meat of Root's helmet, a collision so brutal it forced a piece of padding to fall off and prompted a concerned response from Australia led by the big-left-armer and vice-captain David Warner.

Smith avoids a Chris Woakes bouncer.
Smith avoids a Chris Woakes bouncer.

It was a stunning turnaround in what has been one of the most captivating Ashes Test matches in recent history.

Before lunch it was Australia on the brink of oblivion after they had lost three early wickets still 93 runs behind, only for Smith (141 not out off 326 balls) to almost single-handedly drag them back.

The freakishly talented Pat Cummins was also instrumental, and his 42-run contribution could not be underestimated, as Australia turned an almost certain deficit into a momentum-shifting 26-run first innings lead as they posted 328 to lift the 33,474 crowd.

Smith absorbed relentless tactical pressure from opposite number Joe Root to be the last man left standing after eight and a half hours duking it out in the Brisbane sun.

 

Josh Hazlewood celebrates James Vince’s wicket.
Josh Hazlewood celebrates James Vince’s wicket.

 

It was the 21st career Test century for the batting genius of the 21st century, who now averages more than 60 from just 57 matches.

Under enormous pressure to reclaim the urn as Australian captain, Smith

Smith has scored some magnificent tons, including one on a turning minefield in India earlier this year, but in the context of how much pressure he's under as Australian captain to return the urn, his effort at the Gabba must surely rank in the highest bracket possible.

As a captain he has made 13 centuries at an average of 72 - only Sir Donald Bradman averaging 102 as skipper has a prouder record of leading from the front.

It was the slowest Test century by an Australian since Simon Katich took 262 balls against New Zealand in 2010, but his extraordinary patience under fire only added to the excellence of the innings.

Nearly an hour was spent in the 90s, but Smith doesn't get nervous like most, he simply thrives on the contest.

Joe Root set bodyline type fields and ordered his quicks to push the boundaries of how many bouncers can be bowled in an over in an attempt to suffocate Smith.

But he is a batsman that cannot be tamed.

With as many Test hundreds now as AB de Villiers, David Boon, Neil Harvey, Andrew Strauss and Gary Kirsten.

Smith needs just six more centuries to knock Allan Border (27 tons) off the list, and he was a giant of the game whose career lasted 156 Tests.

England were on the receiving end of his first career century only a tick over four years ago, and yesterday even their best laid plans were powerless to stop the world's No.1

However, what Smith did would not have been possible if not for the enormous support role played by Cummins, who registered his highest career score.

Without the 66-run eighth-wicket stand between Cummins and Smith, Australia's 30-year undefeated record at fortress Gabba was at grave risk of collapsing.

Cummins is a phenomenal talent with the ball but he is proving a match-winner in every facet.

On debut in Johannesburg in 2011, Cummins won a game for Australia with the bat, and it seems there is nothing he can't do since finally returning from injury this year.