Australia's skipper lauds his top-ranked batter and bowler, saying he had no doubt Steve Smith would get back to his best form
'Scary' Smith only getting better, says Paine
Captain Tim Paine said he had no doubt Steve Smith would return to his best after missing the third Ashes Test due to concussion and issued a frightening warning about Australia's star batter - he's getting better.
Having watched the dramatic events at Headingley unfold from the sidelines, Smith was determined to make an impact in his Test return in Manchester.
And he did just that, scoring 211 and 82 to be named the player-of-the-match in Australia's 185-run win at Old Trafford that ensured the visitors would retain the Ashes.
Smith now has three Ashes double centuries and has passed 50 in his past nine innings against England, the longest streak in Ashes history.
While there was interest in how Smith would fair in his Test comeback against England’s express paceman Jofra Archer, the bowler who inflicted the blow to the back of his neck that caused the concussion at Lord's, the Australian was adamant he did not need to alter his batting method that has seen him break countless records, average 64.81 in 67 Tests and score 671 runs in this series to date.
After watching Smith live and breathe batting firsthand, Paine was confident the No.1 Test batsman in the world would continue his prolific ways once he returned on the park.
"Anyone who's watched (Smith) bat in the last three or four years knows the talent and the skill and the hunger that he has got," Paine said on Sunday evening.
"People don't see how driven he is and how much he trains, eats and sleeps batting.
“He is just a genius and I never had any doubt that he would come back and be the player that he was.
"The scary thing is he's getting better.
"I don't know where it’s going to stop but we are enjoying being along for the ride with him, that is for sure."
Smith has been the standout player for Australia in this series, but he’s not the only player at the top of his game.
On the other side of the coin, his bowling counterpart Pat Cummins, the No.1 Test bowler in the world, has lived up to his billing.
Through four Tests, Cummins has 24 wickets at 17.41 and broke open England's second innings with the first four wickets, including in-form opener Rory Burns and captain Joe Root in consecutive balls late on day four.
Cummins finished with match figures of 7-103 to extend his lead to eight over Ashes rival Stuart Broad as the highest Test wicket-taker in 2019.
The 26-year-old has 38 wickets in seven Tests this year, and remarkably has captured three or more wickets in 12 of his past 15 Test innings, dating back to the Boxing Day Test against India last December.
But there could be an argument that there’s an even better bowler in Australia's ranks in the form of Josh Hazlewood, who has taken 18 wickets at 16.88 in three Tests this Ashes.
Hazlewood missed out on playing in the first Test at Edgbaston on a 'gut feel' call by the selectors, but has since demanded selection."
Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said after the third Test at Headingley, where Hazlewood captured career-best match figures of 9-115, he has never seen the right-armer bowl better.
Fortunately for Paine, he gets to command both quicks and could not speak any higher of the pair after they bowled Australia to victory on day five.
"What I love about those two fast bowlers is that from day one in this series to this afternoon, the same effort is coming all of the time," Paine said. "You can't fault them.
"They run in hard, bowl as fast as they can every time, they get the ball in their hand and for me that is a real weapon to have.
"Fast bowling is a very difficult thing to do, particularly when you go in with three fast bowlers.
"Those guys have an unbelievable amount of skill and toughness and a huge amount of fitness.
"To always go in with the three quicks, which we do, and Nathan (Lyon) obviously bowls lot for us, I’m not sure there are a heap of bowlers going around that would get through the workload that our guys are and maintain pace and skill like those two do.
"Pat is the best bowler in the world in the rankings and rightly so, and Josh Hazlewood's last three Test matches have been right up there as well.
"We're lucky to have them."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval