Super Smith finds love among the Ashes
Australia great reveals he considered not playing cricket again after completing remarkable century in first Test
Andrew Ramsey at Edgbaston
2 August 2019, 11:00 AM AEST
Steve Smith rates the 144 he compiled against a dominant England attack in challenging Edgbaston conditions in Thursday's Ashes opener as among the best Test tons he's scored.
And he revealed it arrived six months after he reached his lowest ebb – the time he spent convalescing from elbow surgery during which he questioned whether he wanted to continue pursuing cricket as a career.
Smith had sustained ligament damage to his right elbow soon after arriving in Dhaka to take part in the Bangladesh Premier League T20 competition last January.
Initially, he feared he might need to undergo a full reconstruction of the damaged joint which would have significantly curtailed his preparation for this year's World Cup and the subsequent Ashes campaign.
However, he opted instead to immobilise his damaged arm in a brace for six weeks after undergoing less intrusive surgery and it was during that period – when he could not pick up a cricket bat or even strum the guitar he had taken up playing – that he found his passion for cricket waning.
On Thursday in Birmingham, that relationship was back in full flower.
The 30-year-old former Australia captain completed a remarkable return to the Test game on the first day against England in which he scored more than half his team's total runs and almost single-handedly carried them to a competitive score.
Yet the chorus of lager-led boos that accompanied his every turn – from the morning moment his name was announced over the public address system, to the late-afternoon dash from the field with 144 flashing against his name on the scoreboard – provided a constant reminder of the journey he's undertaken.
The reason why that hectoring has no impact on the world's number-four ranked Test batter, whose average now climbs to 62.19 (second only to Sir Donald Bradman among those to have played 20 or more matches) is that he's put himself through far greater torment.
And now, having taken a solitary innings to confirm he's lost none of his competence or competitiveness, he's rediscovered his passion for the game that has been – but for that dark patch earlier this year – his life.
"There were times throughout the last fifteen months where I didn’t know if I was ever going to play cricket again," Smith said after steering Australia to a total of 284 after they had plummeted to 8-122.
"I lost a bit of love for it at one point, particularly when I had my elbow operation.
"It was really bizarre, it was the day I got the brace off my elbow (in early March) I found a love for it again.
"I don’t know what it was, it was like a trigger that said 'I’m ready to go again, I want to play'.
"And I wanted to go out and play for Australia and make people proud, and do what I love doing.
"I have never had those feelings before.
"I didn’t have a great sort of love for the game, and it was there for a little while.
"Fortunately, that love has come back.
"I'm really grateful to be in this position, playing for Australia again and doing what I love."
The love that Smith repeatedly expressed at the end-of-day media conference was reciprocated by the other members of the Australia squad on the Edgbaston dressing room balcony, and a sizeable number of Australia fans in the Hollies Stand lining Edgbaston's eastern flank.
Smith described the sight of his teammates on their feet and cheering wildly when he punched England all-rounder Ben Stokes through extra cover to reach the milestone shortly before 6pm as a magic memory.
"It’s great to have some Aussie support over here," he said.
"I just saw the boys going berserk on the balcony which was a huge moment and I’m sort of lost for words to be honest."
The impact that reaching his first hundred since the Boxing Day Test of the previous Ashes series in 2017-18 was evident immediately after he had acknowledged that ovation.
As the initial adrenaline surge coursed through him and the emotion followed hard behind it, Smith bent over to gather his thoughts and his focus before launching into the weary England bowlers.
The 41 runs he flayed from 25 deliveries faced after reaching his century served to illustrate better than any collection of words the exuberance he felt at being back in love with cricket.
For those who continued to heckle, even after he was finally dismissed aiming a mighty heave at England's best bowler, Stuart Broad, Smith felt no rancour.
“It doesn’t bother me to be perfectly honest," he said of the catcalling he's endured since he arrived for the World Cup last May.
"I know I have the support of the guys in the (dressing) room.
"For me, that’s all that really matters.
"They went berserk on the balcony when I got to 100 and looking up at them, it really sent shivers down my spine."
He could have displayed a similar meanness of spirit to the hecklers had he chosen when, at the evening media conference, he was asked if he had been boosted by England's loss of their strike bowler James Anderson early in the day.
Anderson bowled just four overs before being forced from the field, the fear in the England camp being he's re-injured the right calf he hurt in the weeks leading into the Ashes.
If scans taken on Monday confirm he's sustained a tear, then England's all-time leading Test wicket-taker is unlikely to take any further part in the five-match series.
But when asked if the sight of Anderson leaving the field, and the subsequent knowledge he would not be bowling again for the remainder of the day had lifted his spirits while batting, Smith was as magnanimous as sections of the crowd had been hostile.
"You don't want to see people go down, and you want to go up against the best," he said.
"It's always tough, as a team, when you lose one of your strike bowlers and someone as good as Jimmy, particularly in those conditions so early in the game."
It's the underlying reason that Smith was able to rekindle the desire to return to cricket at the highest level.
He just wants to test himself against the game's best.
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