Smith strikes brilliant century on gripping opening day
Australia batsman makes triumphant return to post 24th Test century before Aussies bowled out for 284
Andrew Ramsey at Edgbaston
2 August 2019, 10:00 AM AEST
Throughout the one year, four months and eight days since his world collapsed at Cape Town, Steve Smith's mind surely churned as to how his return to Test cricket might play out.
But it would have stretched the bounds of credulity to imagine he would find himself in the eye of an altogether different storm, with teammates falling regularly around him before he rescued them with a stunning solo century.
That's the script that unfolded at Edgbaston on an Ashes opening day that also raised the ghost of Trent Bridge four years ago, as well as a series of dramatic twists and DRS dramas before culminating in Smith standing triumphant, arms aloft.
He then freed his arms – having taken a moment to reflect and savour his achievement – and took to England's wearying attack in a blaze of belligerence as if to purge himself of the anxiety and introspection that had built within him prior to today.
Less symbolically, but of perhaps wider importance, his 144 and a couple of crucial tail-end partnerships with recalled seamer Peter Siddle (44 in almost two hours) and off-spinner Nathan Lyon (12 not out in 65 minutes) lifted Australia's total to 284 after teetering at 8-112 earlier in the day.
While that tally was demonstrably less than skipper Tim Paine would have envisaged when he opted to bat first, it was considerably more than seemed likely when Stuart Broad (5-86) and Chris Woakes (3-58) carved through the top and middle-orders to re-open scars thought healed from 2015.
With six of their top nine failing to reach double figures, Australia was staring at a tally of less than 150 until the ball stopped swinging and the pitch flattened out in the final session.
England will resume at 0-10 and sweating on news of the extent of James Anderson's latest calf injury, after he was forced from the field after bowling just four overs this morning.
The day's final score line will startle, and likely delight those Australia fans who shut down the coverage and went to bed in the early hours of Friday morning when the outlook was grim.
From 3-99, shortly after lunch, Australia lost 5-23 in a clatter of wickets that prompted comparisons to the 60 all-out before lunch on day one at Trent Bridge in 2015.
That calamity had prompted the introduction of the Dukes-brand ball into Sheffield Shield cricket to try and better equip Australia's batters against swing and seam in England.
At the height of another rampage led by Broad, that appeared to have provided lessons quickly unlearned as batter after batter was undone by high quality, accurate bowling.
Tim Paine's record at coin tosses has not been great – two wins from his first nine Tests in charge – and it's not too much of a stretch to suggest he might have liked that streak to continue today.
While the Edgbaston pitch was hard and devoid of live grass, the cloud cover and residual humidity from Tuesday afternoon's deluge that delivered almost 16 millimetres upon the ground made for seam bowling conditions at day's dawn.
But as tempted as Paine might have been to let loose his new-look pace attack containing Siddle and James Pattinson, and with the sun peeping through at the very moment the commemorative coin came to a standstill, convention dictated batting was the pragmatic option.
It just needed the tourists' top-order to hold firm in what was certain to be a challenging first session.
If England captain Joe Root successfully stifled a smile when told his team was in the field, it had split into a wide smile within an hour of play beginning.
David Warner should have been out from the first ball he faced, the flurry of bat and ball and feet as Broad fired a full ball towards his toes masking a faint edge that would have been noticed had England opted to review.
That oversight was addressed with the fifth ball of Broad's next over, when Warner – who had taken to batting so far out of his crease he was counselled about scuffing the pitch on a good length – was adjudged not out having been struck on the knee roll, and Broad successfully argued for a review.
When that showed the ball safely clearing the stumps, it appeared that luck was riding with Australia.
But that view was soon revealed to be illusory.
Warner's third strike rendered him out, although that decision by umpire Aleem Dar would also have been overturned had the Australia opener chose to refer it.
To the howls of the increasingly euphoric England fans, Warner's opening partner Cameron Bancroft departed immediately after punching Broad down the ground for four, nicking off to a ball he might have left alone.
In a similar vein, Usman Khawaja appeared comfortable and confident against the moving ball until he feathered a catch off Woakes, the thin edge escaping the notice of umpire Joel Wilson but detected by technology upon another review.
Khawaja's dismissal for 13 reduced Australia to 3-35 shortly after the first drinks break even though much of that opening hour had been played beneath bright Birmingham sunshine.
It was clearly vice-captain's Travis Head's cue to make hay, because he was soon rattling along at almost a run-per-ball while Smith dug in resolutely, occasionally theatrically, at the other end.
All the flourishes that Smith had brought to batting prior to his year-long suspension – the exaggerated leave, the light-sabre wave-away of a possible single – were on show as befitting his turn as pantomime villain, booed at every turn by the England fans.
By contrast, Head betrayed a minimum of emotion and equal economy of exertion as he found the boundary five times in his innings of 35 during the 64-run stand with the former skipper.
But just as soon as batting was being made to look less problematic, and speculation was turning to how many overs the Australia batters might compel the veteran Broad to bowl in Anderson's absence, the wheels came completely adrift.
Head was pinned lbw by Woakes who was swinging the ball late into the left-hander, and not even an appeal to third umpire Chris Gaffaney could save him.
That was when Broad embarked on one of the bowling spells upon which his formidable reputation has been forged, and which raised the ghost of Trent Bridge that Australia has spent four years trying to exorcise.
In the space of 20 balls he removed Paine and his sometimes Nottinghamshire teammate Pattinson, and was convinced he'd collected Smith's scalp on 34 when the ex-skipper shouldered arms and was adjudged lbw.
Again, it was left to the off-field official to adjudicate, and Smith survived when ball-tracking technology showed his off stump would have been clearly missed.
There was no such conjecture over Paine's dismissal, the pull shot that came from a short ball that bounced barely knee-high being lifted so unerringly to deep backward square leg it might have figured in a pre-game outfield catching drill.
When Pattinson was given out lbw for a second-ball duck to a delivery that would have slid harmlessly past leg stump – but that he opted not to review – a collapse within two sessions looked likely.
But in Siddle, whose batting exploits for county team Essex this summer might have proved the decisive edge in his selection ahead of fellow seamer Josh Hazlewood, Smith belatedly found an able ally.
As Smith reached one of the hardest-fought of his 25 Test half-centuries, Siddle was battling umpire Wilson who adjudged the tailender lbw only for a review to show a sizeable inside edge.
Next delivery, Siddle chopped a delivery from Woakes into the pitch before it flew to gully for a loudly celebrated 'crowd catch', prompting Wilson to call for his own video review such was his uncertainty as to what had transpired.
But there was no such equivocation as to the value of the ninth-wicket stand that Smith forged with Siddle (88) and the last-wicket union with Lyon (74).
The brief examination that England openers Jason Roy and Rory Burns successfully negotiated in the gloaming suggested a similarly combative second day awaits.
Australia XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matt Wade, Tim Paine (c), James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon
England XI: Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
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), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval