Today was his day. He and whomever his partner was at the crease overwhelmed England, especially during the second session, the session in which the Ashes were more or less lost for the hosts. England were ineffectual and looked downright bored with it all. Maybe too much cricket for them this summer? Maybe it’s the cold/damp weather? Maybe it’s the lack of first class cricket under their belts? Probably a combination therein. Mostly, though, Steve Smith is playing out of his mind. No one can stand his way right now.
He scored 211 which gave him 589 runs for the calendar year. The most among all Test batsmen. And he didn’t start playing international cricket again until the first Ashes test a few short weeks ago. Ben Stokes has scored the second most Test runs this calendar year, but he has batted in 12 Test innings to Smith’s four. Smith is averaging over 147 runs over those four innings, but his strike rate is a conservative (but still really great for Tests) 65.01 which goes to show he’s not just slogging and getting lucky. It’s almost unbelievable. A fairy tale. Remarkable. And it’s all at England’s expense. Because they are the only team he has played.
Australia finally declared at 497 with two wickets in hand, forcing England’s openers to bat out the last 45 minutes of the day in tricky, fading light. And it worked. Denly fell after only seeing 24 balls, forcing England to send in the nightwatchman for the second time in this series.
Now England have no choice but to try to bat for two whole days. Do you see that happening? Neither do I. Over the last 12 months, only seven England batsmen have scored centuries. And three of them aren’t playing in this Test. While during the same time period, Stokes is the only player to average over 40 in Tests. But scoring isn’t the most important thing over these last two days. It’s simply staying out there. And for all players in all Tests over the last 12 months, Joe Root is the only England batsmen in the top 10 for balls faced (1,352).
Of course, stats are not everything here. England might be a little weak at the crease, but they are still a Test playing nation. Root, Stokes, Bairstow and even Buttler to smaller extent are all proven Test batsmen. And Burns proved earlier in the series that he has it in him too. They are not dead yet, to paraphrase Monty Python. But the vultures are circling, and those vultures are named Cummins, Starc, Hazelwood and Lyon. And stats aside again, it’s rather crystal clear now that Steve Smith’s absence is just about the only reason the visitors lost the Headingley Test, and England only did it thanks to a lightning strike of an innings from one player.
Buckle in and bat all day, England. Or it’s curtains. Good luck. You’re gonna need it.