Australia's Steve Smith
Australia's Steve Smith celebrates his 2nd innings century against England at Edgbaston, Birmingham, on August 4, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: The ‘redemption’ of Steve Smith may have been a recurring theme of the first Ashes Test, but there is another major takeaway from it.

The debate over the tag of “world’s best batsman” has come alive again, with Smith working his way back into the cricket fans’ consciousness in a way he only can.

The former Australian captain, with 25 Test centuries, is now neck-and-neck with Virat Kohli — the strongman of Indian cricket — and that too in fewer Tests.

Joe Root, the England Test captain who had a poor outing at Edgbaston, is still some way off in the tally of centuries (16) — but the benchmark is not about the number of three figure knocks alone.

It’s a well-worn cliché that Test cricket brings out the real strength of character, but Smith showed he had endless reserves of it during his journey from a tearful press conference in March in Sydney last year in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal to the Bradmanesque effort at England’s so-called fortress in Birmingham over the last four days.

“I’ve never doubted my ability,” Smith told reporters after his back-to-back centuries came in the most trying of circumstances. “But, it’s kind of a dream comeback in a way. To be able to score two hundreds in a match, in the first Ashes match, it’s something I have never done in any form of cricket before in my life. It’s incredibly special,” he added in the same breath.

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It’s a tough call to choose which one of his innings in the first Test came under the most trying of circumstances.

If the visitors were staring at the bottom of the barrel after being 122 for eight on the first day of the Test, they had once again lost the initiative by allowing the England tail to wag in the first innings and losing their top order cheaply in the second innings until Smith stood firm again.

In the last Ashes in 2017-18, Smith had struck 687 and three centuries. This time around, he already has 286 and two hundreds. A measure of Sir Don Bradman’s supremacy is that he scored 974 in the five-Test 1930 series, 758 four years later and 680 in 1946-47. The legend claimed 19 Test hundreds in England compared to Smith’s 10. There is, of course, plenty of time still for Smith, who has the second highest Test average of all time at 61.4 and is still only 30.

It may not be always a pretty sight to watch the ever-fidgeting Smith with his conspicuously open stance — a far cry from the commanding presence of a Kohli or the silken grace of a Root. Yet, if the 'Baggy Greens' had to bet on anyone to bat for their lives, it had to be Smith.

The 251-run defeat will be a rap on the knuckles for the English team, who won the 50-overs World Cup only three weeks ago. They will now be wondering how to stop this man in the remaining four Tests, if they are to hold on to their enviable Ashes record at home since 2001.