Smith sleeps easy as mental demons take Root

06 December 2017
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Opposing captains give vastly different takes on Ashes series as Steve Smith celebrates after nervous night

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

On the eve of securing a 2-0 lead in an Ashes series now heavily weighted in favour of his team, captain Steve Smith was so anxious about whether he might have cost Australia their advantage that he called for a sleeping tablet to enable him to snatch four hours’ kip.

By contrast, England skipper Joe Root – now faced with a task that no touring Ashes squad has managed to pull off in more than 140 years – felt so comfortable with his side’s efforts he announced they remain “massively in this series” shortly after they surrendered six wickets for 57 and crashed to a 120-run loss.

Day wrap: Australia storm to 2-0 series lead

As such, a most curious Magellan Ashes Test match that turned like a switchback road on the back of a raft of captaincy calls that became as influential as anything achieved with bat or ball continued to confound even after the final wicket had fallen.

Smith, a notoriously poor sleeper even when all's right in his world, revealed at his post-match media conference that his anxiety levels peaked not on the evening that he opted against forcing England to follow-on, but rather a night later as they mounted a stoic if unlikely charge towards victory.

It was when he returned to the Australia team's Adelaide hotel and headed to bed after midnight last night that Smith’s mind began replaying the montage of scenarios that had allowed England to somehow glimpse success after being soundly outplayed for two-and-a-half days.

"If I’m being honest, I was a little bit nervous last night at the end of play," Smith said shortly after his bowlers had put paid to England’s distant hopes of an historic run chase by claiming their final six wickets in less than two hours.

"It has been a pretty tough 24 hours.

"It’s all part of being captain of your country, you have to make difficult decisions and sometimes you’re going to make the wrong decisions.

Smith satisfied with win after nervous night

"Over the last day or so I’ve had a few different thoughts and I’ve read a lot of things, but in the end we’ve won the game so it’s all irrelevant."

Those pangs of anxiety set in soon after he chose not to send England back into bat even though he suspected the cool, still conditions that prevailed at Adelaide Oval on Monday night would allow England’s seamers to feel fully at home.

Smith revealed his rationale for not enforcing the follow-on, a decision that others in the dressing room had confirmed the skipper made unilaterally and that Bupa Support Team Assistant Coach David Saker claimed on Tuesday evening "maybe we got it wrong", was two-fold.

As speculated during the in-depth debate that followed his captain's call, Smith claimed that it was partly driven by his view Australia were already well ahead in the game and that a half decent batting effort would have stretched the lead to 400 and killed off the most remote England hope.

Match wrap: Australia win topsy-turvy second Test

But just as persuasive was his longer-term view of nursing his three prized fast bowlers – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – through a five-Test series without the risk of bowling them into the ground barely a fortnight into the campaign.

While trying to inflict maximum wear and tear on England’s ageing pace pair James Anderson (35 years) and Stuart Broad (31) by sending them back into the fray.

"I think these bowlers that we’ve got are very valuable and just giving those guys a bit of a rest, it always makes me confident that they can come back day-in, day-out and do the business that they need to do," Smith said tonight.

"So give them a rest, and keep the England bowlers bowling.

"They bowled 150 overs in the first innings and part of an Ashes series that’s long is if you can tire their bowlers early in the summer then it can make a big difference, so that was also part of it."

Amid the restlessness of Tuesday night and the wee hours of Wednesday, Smith tried to quell his racing mind with thoughts of an early couple of wickets when the game restarted on day five and then the availability of a new ball 18 overs later to finish off the job.

Sizzling Starc ends England, collects five-fa

A plan that came together perfectly thanks to the execution of Hazlewood (two crucial wickets in his first 11 deliveries) and Starc (3-13 with the second new ball) as England folded like an origami pelican.

But that did not prevent Root from sounding so upbeat in the wake of a second sound defeat from as many Tests on this tour that he proclaimed there was no danger of his team heading down the same path as the 2013-14 outfit of which he was part.

And which was humiliated 5-0 by a Mitchell Johnson-inspired Australia.

"I think the way that we’ve gone about the second innings has proved to everyone that we are still massively in this series," Root enthused, prompting suggestions that he might consider seeking a script for Smith’s preferred sedative.

Johnson's 37 Ashes wickets, 2013-14

"We’ve shown that throughout the two games, in periods, that we can outperform Australia but just not for five days and that’s going to be our challenge.

"If we get that right and we can perform to our ability for longer periods of time, we will win games.

"It’s as simple as that."

When asked directly if he sensed England might be headed for another five-Test whitewash – the fourth inflicted upon an Ashes touring team in Australia since 1877 and the third in the past four Ashes summers down under – Root was unequivocal.

"I’d say that I strongly disagree with that (prospect of another 5-0 result)," he said.

Root finds positives despite 0-2 series deficit

"I don’t think we’re in the situation we were in last time we were here, I think we’re in a much better place than that and there’s still a lot of confidence.

"I think we’re playing better cricket this time around.

"I don’t think we’re as unevenly matched as maybe we were last time around.

"I think we’ve shown throughout the two games that it has ebbed and flowed and you’ve seen us be in control for periods of the game, where I don’t think necessarily that was the case last time around."

As was the case from the moment the coin was flicked skywards last Saturday, Smith – who announced then his preference was to bat first – did not take the same view.

The best highlights from Adelaide Test

With his assessment backed by the knowledge that only one team, Australia’s 1936-37 outfit with Don Bradman among their number, has fought back from 2-0 down to seize the urn.

With no record of it having been achieved by an Ashes team playing on foreign soil.

"It’s always tough coming back from 2-0 down, particularly when you’re away from home," Smith said in a blatant bid to transfer his now redundant mental demons to the opposition camp.

"You can really only be one or two bad sessions away from (losing) the series, that can play on people’s minds sometimes when you’re behind."

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.

England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard

Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21