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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Ashes 2017/18 proving to be career-defining series for Steve Smith

His captaincy may need some work, but Australia's leader has given his bowlers help by ensuring they have runs to defend with

Steve Smith could be on his way to becoming the most successful Australia Test captain in an Ashes series. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
Steve Smith could be on his way to becoming the most successful Australia Test captain in an Ashes series. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

Saturday was not the day the Ashes was lost by England.

But it was the day that Australia, and their captain Steve Smith, pulled apart any remaining belief that Joe Root's side with a dominant display of batting.

England have had rough days in Australia before, and they will undoubtedly have them again in the future, but the third day of the third Test was as demoralising as it could be for the tourists.

Australia, beginning the day on 203-3, scored 346-1 as the failings in the English bowling attack were brutally exposed again by Smith and Mitchell Marsh.

England now face two days to try and save the match and at least keep the series alive to Melbourne and the fourth Test.

They may be helped with the weather, but judging by how they batted first time around, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow apart, it will need a lot of rain if Australia are not to go 3-0 up in the five-match and regain the Ashes at some point on either Sunday or Monday.

Not for the first time it was Smith who has led by example, and he is well on the way to enjoying one of the greatest individual performances in an Ashes series by an Australia captain.

He struck his highest Test score on Saturday with an unbeaten 229, and his unbroken partnership of 301 for the fifth wicket with Marsh (181 not out) has turned the game from one where England were still in a good position to one where their best case scenario now is a draw.

The most frightening thing for England was how easy Smith made the accumulation of his runs come.

There was rarely a false stroke from the right-hander as he reached his 22nd century.

Do not forget that just like his unbeaten 141 in the first Test in Brisbane, he had begun his innings with his side in trouble.

At 55-2, in reply to England's 403, another couple of quick wickets and the tourists would have been well and truly in the ascendancy.

It is often said that it is the hope that can bring the most pain and England wilted at the Western Australian Cricket Association (Waca) Ground in Perth as a chanceless Smith and Marsh put on an unbroken 301 for the fifth wicket.

Smith now has 416 runs in the series, and will expect to add a few more before a declaration comes at some point on Sunday.

Australia are used to their captains leading the way in recent series, with Ricky Ponting (576 in 2006/07) and Mark Taylor (471 in 1994/95) both making big contributions.

But if Smith keeps up this rate of scoring then this could well go on to be a career-defining series for the 28-year-old batsman.

Scoring a large amount of runs, while winning the Ashes back can only increase his confidence in the early days of life as a captain.

The only slight on Smith is the captaincy may need some work. He did not judge the conditions or the morale of his beaten opponents by not enforcing the follow on in the second Test in Adelaide.

Yes, Australia still won but England gave them a scare and it was the skill of his bowling attack that ensured his mistake was not costly.

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Read more

Day 2 report: Australia response after Bairstow century leaves Test well-balanced

Day 1 report: Dawid Malan century inspires England on Day 1 of Ashes Test in Perth

Alex Hales: T10 League star optimistic about England's chances of Ashes fightback

Graham Caygill: England bid to hold on to urn at Perth looks grim after Adelaide

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Smith is a fortunate captain in that he has arguably Australia's best all-round bowling attack for a decade in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon to call from.

But he has given his bowlers help by ensuring they have runs to defend with his big contributions in Perth and previously in Brisbane.

With England's morale sapped it is hard not to see Smith scoring heavily in Melbourne and in Sydney in the remaining Tests, even if the urn has already been secured.

The Test match has been another basic example of the all-round flaws in the England team. They do not score enough runs and cannot take 10 wickets cheaply enough on a consistent basis.

But Smith has ensured that Australia have fully capitalised on that and he will rightly deserve to be centre of attention when, and not if, Australia do seal a series victory.