How the 'genius' Steve Smith guided Australia to Ashes glory in England
With the little urn now staying Down Under after the tourists' win at Old Trafford on Sunday, we take a blow-by-blow look at a stunning series for the batting hero
"He's a genius ... the scary thing is, I think he's getting better." These are the words of Australia captain Tim Paine about his remarkable, relentless and ruthless master batsman Steve Smith that should strike fear into the hearts of bowlers across the world.
After England's stubborn resistance had finally been broken in Manchester, and Australia had sealed a 185-run win to retain the Ashes, it was already clear who had almost single-handedly carried them to an unassailable 2-1 series lead.
Smith has scored 671 runs, so far, almost twice as much as the next highest scorer – England's Ben Stokes – with 354, and way ahead of the next best Australian – Marnus Labuschagne's 291.
His average from just five innings is a mammoth 134.20, with a highest score of 211 and a low of 82. Bare in mind Smith also missed one innings and the entire third Test due to concussion.
It has been a truly incredible summer for Smith, made all the more remarkable when you remember it was his first Test series since serving his ban for ball-tampering.
There was a theory touted ahead of the five-match series that out of Smith and David Warner, who was also banned for his role in "Sandpapergate" in South Africa, it would be their former captain who would struggle to deal with the spotlight, and the inevitable taunts from home fans.
It was a theory quickly blown out of the water, though, as Smith hit the ground running, while Warner has struggled badly, with England bowler Stuart Broad claiming his wicket six times.
The opener heads into the next Test at The Oval having been out for three ducks on the trot, scoring a meagre 79 runs in the series at a dismal average of 9.88.
Smith has suffered no such problems. Here is a blow-by-blow account of a series he will never forget.
First Test at Edgbaston
Australia first innings: 284; Smith 144
Any thoughts of Smith taking time to find his feet back in Test cricket were quickly banished in Birmingham. Australia were in disarray at 122-8 when their former captain took control and dragged his team to 284 all out. He shared an 88-run stand with Peter Siddle for the ninth wicket and enjoyed a 74-run partnership with last man Nathan Lyon. It was Smith's 24th Test century.
Australia second innings: 487-7 dec; Smith 142
Another demoralising knock that left England fighting a losing battle to save the Test. Taunts from home fans again fell on deaf ears as Smith's 207-ball knock, that included 14 fours, helped Australia build-up a 398-run lead that Joe Root's side would come nowhere near to challenging.
Result: Australia win by 251 runs
Second Test at Lord's
Australia first innings: 250; Smith 92
An extraordinary Test - but nearly for all the wrong reasons for Smith. He seemed destined for a third century in a row on Day 4 – the opening day was lost to rain, before England scored 258 in their first innings – when he was hit just below the left ear by a vicious 149km/h delivery from Jofra Archer. He had already received a painful blow on the forearm from England's fired-up fast bowler. Forced to retire hurt on 80, Smith somehow managed to pass medical assessments and resumed 40 minutes later but, clearly still groggy, then played no stroke at a straight ball from Chris Woakes and was out lbw for 92. He was ruled out of the second innings after reporting in the next day with a headache and feeling unwell. Labuschagne became Test cricket's first concussion substitute.
Australia second innings: 154-6; Smith did not bat
Result: match drawn
Third Test at Headingley
Australia first innings: 179; second innings: 246
With Smith ruled out due to concussion, his team were beaten by the brilliance of England all-rounder Ben Stokes. After bowling out England for just 67 in the first innings, Australia still managed to lose the match thanks to Stokes' incredible 135 not out that sealed a thrilling victory in front of an astonished crowd in Yorkshire. Only Labuschagne showed any resilience with the bat, scoring 74 and 80 for the tourists.
Result: England win by one wicket
Fourth Test at Old Trafford
Australia first innings: 497-8 dec; Smith: 211
Smith was straight back into the side and into the old routine with a brilliant double century. He enjoyed a couple of slices of luck when he was dropped by Archer on 65 then caught behind off a Jack Leach no-ball on 118. These were killer blows to England's Ashes hopes as Smith showed no mercy with a 319-ball knock, that included 24 fours and two sixes, and put Australia firmly in the driving seat.
Australia second innings: 186-6 dec; Smith: 82
Australia were bang in trouble at 44-4 when Smith again stepped in again to take the game away from England. His lowest total of the series came at a rapid pace – 92 balls – and meant Australia were able to set England an imposing target of 383. There was to be no repeat of the Headingley miracle this time as English resistance was eventually broken down and the Ashes would be staying Down Under, largely thanks to the efforts of their 30-year-old run machine from Sydney.
Result: Australia win by 185 runs
Updated: September 9, 2019 05:46 PM