Perth: Rivals and teammates alike were left in awe of Steve Smith after the world’s top-ranked Test batsman hit new heights in the third Ashes match against England at the WACA Ground on Saturday.
The Australian captain reached his highest Test score yet with his second double-century, passed 1,000 Test runs for the year and also notched his fastest Test century in an innings that appeared to shatter England’s resolve.
At stumps, Smith was on 229 not out, having faced 390 balls, hitting 28 fours and one six as his stellar year continued.
It was his second century of the series and he didn’t offer a single chance throughout.
The closest England came to seeing the back of the star right-hander were two unsuccessful third-umpire reviews after having leg before wicket appeals turned down.
English assistant coach Paul Farbrace said their best plans for the unorthodox Smith weren’t troubling him. “Every team will talk about where to bowl to him,” he said. “But the way he is playing at the moment, he gets into some awkward positions but he gets his head back into the ball and keeps the bat face open.
“He hits the ball from what seems likes strange positions, but he hits the middle of the bat on a consistent basis.
“We’ve tried all sorts, we’ve thought about our plans to him for some time, but we’ve come up against a player in the form of his life playing absolutely fantastically.”
Aged 28, Smith already has 22 centuries to his name from 107 Test knocks. Only Don Bradman (58 innings) and Sunil Gavaskar (101 innings) have reached 22 Test centuries in fewer innings.
His current Test batting average is also second only to the legendary Bradman.
Smith and recalled all-rounder Mitchell Marsh carried the home side past the English first innings total Saturday with an unbroken 301-run fifth-wicket partnership. Resuming on 92 at the start of play, Smith wasted little time raising century, reaching the mark from 138 balls — his fastest Test century in terms of balls faced.
Smith reached 200 by working Moeen Ali through mid-wicket for another single, having faced 301 balls.
Marsh said Smith had an aura about him and he had sympathy for England’s predicament.
“I have felt what it’s like, captained against him when he played for New South Wales a couple of months ago,” he said. “You come up with all these plans and none of them seem to work.
“He is a special player.”
“I told the boys when I got back in last night (on day two) that I was just getting started,” Smith said before exiting the ground to raucous applause.
“Luckily it came off today and (we’re) getting ourselves in a nice position.” For England captain Joe Root and his senior bowlers, there was a horrible feeling of deja vu at the WACA, where Smith scored a century in the corresponding Test four years ago.
Alastair Cook’s team crashed out in that match, handing over the urn before going on to suffer the humiliating whitewash.
“I love scoring big runs for my country,” Smith said simply.
“We wanted to be out in the middle and just keep batting.”
England (1st innings) 403
Australia 1st innings (Overnight: 203-3)
C. Bancroft lbw b C. Overton 25
D. Warner c Bairstow b C. Overton 22
U. Khawaja lbw b Woakes 50
S. Smith not out 229
S. Marsh c Root b Ali 28
M. Marsh not out 181
Extras (b-2 lb-10 nb-1 w-1) 14
Total (for 4 wickets, 152 overs) 549
Fall of wickets: 1-44 D. Warner, 2-55 C. Bancroft, 3-179 U. Khawaja, 4-248 S. Marsh.
Bowling: J. Anderson 29-8-85-0 (nb-1), S. Broad 28-3-112-0, C. Woakes 32-4-108-1 (w-1), C. Overton 23-1-102-2, M. Ali 31-4-104-1, J. Root 3-0-13-0, D. Malan 6-1-13-0.
Umpires: Marais Erasmus and Chris Gaffaney
TV umpire: Aleem Dar
Match referee: Richie Richardson