Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Smith to the rescue in Australia’s Ashes nightmare

BIRMIGHAM: Australia was staring down the barrel of an Ashes horror show before Steve Smith intervened, scoring the most satisfying ton of his career.

Australia’s Ashes campaign started in awful fashion as it crumbled to 8/122 on the opening day of the first Test at Edgbaston before Steve Smith came to the rescue.

Smith scored a brilliant century as teammates fell around him, bringing up his first ton for his country since returning from his year-long ball tampering ban. He reached the milestone with a brilliant cover drive for four and took his helmet off, looked up to the heavens and soaked it all in before swatting his bat in the direction of his teammates in the dressing room who broke out into appreciative applause.

A huge roar went up the moment the ball beat the fielder and while there was the predictable booing, Smith wasn’t listening. He shared an emotional embrace with Nathan Lyon before putting his hands on his thighs, exhausted after a draining effort.

Smith’s knock saved his team’s innings but it can’t hide the fact the men picked to score runs didn’t do their job as the tourists were bowled out for 284 shortly before stumps.

England finished the day with 10 runs on the board in two overs without any loss.  Batting has been the Aussies’ Achilles heel in Test series in the UK since 2001 and — not including Smith — the nightmare trend continued on day one in Birmingham.

David Warner (2), Cameron Bancroft (8) and Usman Khawaja (13) all failed to make an impact in the opening session and the carnage continued after lunch in front of a raucous crowd. Smith and Travis Head launched a mini rescue mission by combining for a 64-run, fourth-wicket partnership but Chris Woakes trapped Head LBW for 35 to start the second session before getting rid of Matthew Wade for one in the excact same fashion.

Tim Paine joined Smith at the crease but fell for five when he pulled Stuart Broad straight to deep square leg, and James Pattinson was LBW without scoring — though he would have survived had he challenged the decision because the ball was going down the leg side.

Pat Cummins came and went quickly, badly misjudging a leave that saw him too trapped in front of his pegs for just five. Former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Twitter the batting was “atrocious” from the visiting side.

England was doing all this damage even without the help of star fast bowler Jimmy Anderson, who went off for scans on his right calf after managing just four overs in the morning session. It’s the same calf the veteran injured playing County cricket this season and if he’s unable to bowl again England’s chances of winning the Test will take a hit — but it might not matter if the Aussies continue to wilt.

But Smith was proving immoveable and Peter Siddle provided brilliant support. The pair put on 88 runs for the ninth wicket before the paceman was caught at bad pad for 44 as the Aussies reached 9/210.

Smith opened his shoulders when joined by Nathan Lyon and the pair continued to pile on the pain for England, adding a further 74 runs before Smith was bowled for 144.

England made a huge blunder in just the second over of the day when it gave Warner a massive let-off — but the Aussie opener couldn’t make the opposition pay.

After Bancroft played out a maiden against Anderson to start the day, Warner faced up to Broad at the other end and looked to get some bat on his very first ball on its way to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.

Bairstow was excited after gloving the Dukes down the leg side following Warner’s attempted leg glance but Broad didn’t show any interest and there was no thought of a review.

Had England challenged the original not-out decision, it would have been waving goodbye to Warner because replays showed he got an edge.

England then wasted a review when Broad rapped Warner on the pads in his next over. The left-hander was given not-out again but Joe Root opted to go upstairs only to watch as Hawkeye confirmed the ball was clearly going over the top of the stumps.

But the drama involving Warner didn’t stop there and it was third time lucky for the home side as it was gifted a wicket.

Later in that same Broad over – the fourth of the innings – he hit Warner on the pads again and umpire Aleem Dar’s finger shot up after the briefest of deliberations.

Warner walked down the track to talk to Bancroft but opted against reviewing the call and instead accepted his fate and trudged off back towards the dressing room. He won’t have liked what he saw on the replay though as Hawkeye showed the ball to be missing leg stump.

Broad was bowling from around the wicket and although the full ball struck the opening batsman in line with the stumps, it was going to slide down the leg side.

The parochial Birmingham crowd gave Warner plenty of stick on his way out to the middle and the Barmy Army led the celebrations when Dar’s finger went up. The roars got even louder when the big-screen replay showed Broad’s delivery was going down leg as the home fans rejoiced in Warner’s misery.

England had even more reason to cheer shortly after when Broad struck again to dismiss Bancroft. Having bowled a much fuller length than usual to start off the morning, the fast bowler had Bancroft fishing at a short-of-a-length delivery outside off stump and edging to Root at first slip, who took a smart catch down low.

Bancroft will be regretting playing at a delivery he could easily have left alone and he wasted a promising start. The returning star played a couple of lovely off drives but was sent packing for eight.

The boos that erupted upon Bancroft’s departure didn’t die down when Steve Smith walked to the crease as the former Aussie skipper entered the contest under plenty of pressure to dig his side out of an early hole.

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