Steve Smith's return to Test cricket has been nothing short of box-office. The Ashes as it is, is perhaps the biggest rivalry in cricket and when you have players of the opposition side returning after serving a ban, it gets ugly. But, Smith on Thursday, was unfazed and that showed when he batted.
Smith was jeered when he walked in and Edgbaston lived up to its expectation of being a hostile crowd but on a day when the home side was on top and looking to walk away with the honours, Smith dug in and rescued his side out of the hole to post something respectable.
Smith's knock on day one was laced with his usual unorthodox style and full of entertainment if you like to see him bat and it was effective even after 15 months. Smith was ready to grind and drop the anchor and when required play second-fiddle. When Travis Head was playing well, he guided him and allowed him to play on the front-foot and when the wickets kept tumbling, he took charge against the tail. Smith on Thursday was not about making an impression it seemed but respecting the bowlers and taking his team to a good position and he passed the test with flying colours.
Smith's return showed what Australia missed in the middle-order when they lost to India Down Under. An anchor who can stop the opposition's momentum, absorb the pressure and then give some back. His resiliency and surity at the crease along with his unpredictable style is what makes him so important to Australia's fortunes in red-ball cricket.
The 30-year-old walked in the 8th over of the innings and at a time, Stuart Broad was breathing fire. He had already got Cameron Bancroft out with a peach of a delivery and his full-length balls were mostly millimetres away from kissing the off-stump. It was challenging for someone, who hadn't been in such a situation for over a year. But, Smith was oozing confidence and he left balls that normally you expect people to poke at. That was the surity with what Smith played and it looked that he never left. England had to find other ways because he looked in no mood to let go of the stage that was set.
He didn't receive thorough help though, Australia suffered a top-order collapse before Head played with some panache in his first-ever Ashes outing. But, as things looked steady, Woakes got the better of Head and that another rush of wickets followed as Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins all got out for just 11 runs between them. With the Aussies staring down the barrel at 122/8, he was joined with Peter Siddle, who himself could say a story or two about comebacks. Siddle carried on his county form with Essex and contributed 44 in a 88-run stand in the 9th wicket before falling prey to Moeen Ali. Smith was then 14 runs away from another famous hundred and in walked Nathan Lyon -- not a batsman by any stretch but someone, who has shown signs of hanging around and hang he did. Smith hogged the strike and reached his century with a thumping cover drive off Ben Stokes and as he raised his bat and looked at the balcony, there was a wide glee on his face and proudness in the camp.
England surrendered to Smith on Thursday and waited for him to make a mistake. No more catchers, no more aggressive bowling. The bowlers, much like the English crowd failed to take him down and he knew that he had conquered the demons and once again, he is where he belonged before the ill-fated fiasco in Cape Town -- on top of Test cricket.
Smith's 144 in Birmingham, which was nothing short of a cauldron for the Aussies, might finish a close second to his gutsiness in Pune two years back in terms of best knocks but his 219-ball stay at the crease at Edgbaston was a treat for the Test lovers, who approve it as the biggest frontier in the gentleman's game.
And, even Michael Vaughan couldn't stop admiring the greatness of Steve Smith.
"One of the all-time outstanding Test Innings... To do that in his 1st Innings back in Test Cricket is remarkable... Sometimes you have to admire greatness... Steve Smith is some player," tweeted Vaughan.