The ongoing Ashes series, without doubt, belongs to Steve Smith. The former Australian captain fought on a number of fronts — including a concussion — to help his team retain the series.
The history of the game is full of many a batsmen scoring profusely like him in a series, but for Smith to do it during this Ashes after his ban for ball-tampering that forced him to stop playing cricket, is incredible. Any cricketer with a weaker personality would have crashed out of the game given what Smith had to undergo following his ban.
The enormity of the shame itself was enough to destroy him as a player. To push all that behind and score profusely shows that he has the fighting spirit that can make any sportsman proud. Had he not staged such a stupendous comeback, he would have been referred to as a sportsman who destroyed his successful career through an unsporting act. Every reference on him would then have highlighted the ball-tampering incident and as the man who brought shame to Australian cricket and his nation.
By playing a pivotal role, that too in retaining the Ashes series, the ball-tampering incident will only be a passing reference. He will be remembered as a comeback hero who carried Australian cricket to greater heights. Smith scored 671 runs from five innings to ensure the Ashes returns to his country, thus sweeping away the shame he brought to Australian cricket.
Smith was in a race with India captain Virat Kohli for the world records when he got banned but in Test cricket once again, the two will be on a neck-to-neck race. Smith has 6,870 runs with 26 centuries and 26 fifties while Kohli — though he has caught up — is still trailing with 6,749 runs with 25 hundreds and 22 half-centuries.
Though Kohli is statistically ahead of him with 11,520 runs (43 centuries from 239 One Day Internationals, compared to Smith’s 3,810 runs with eight centuries from 118 one-dayers), it is an exciting prospect to anticipate an intense battle for glory in Tests between the two. Australian skipper Tim Paine gave him the best compliment stating: “Smith is the best player I have ever seen.”
During the ICC World Cup in England, I was witness to Smith being booed by spectators when he walked onto the field. To get the same crowd applaud for him now is simply marvellous. In March 2018, Smith returned home from South Africa after the ball-tampering incident with his head down and in tears.
After this Ashes series, he will return with his head held high after retaining the Ashes on English soil for the first time since 2001, while his family members and fans will shed tears of joy with pride. Smith truly deserves a salute.