Steve Smith showed the world what they missed in the last one year with a sensational hundred to singlehandedly drag Australia out of a hole and help them post 284 before being bowled out in the fag end of the opening day of the first Ashes Test at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground on Thursday.
After Australia were reduced to 122/8 before tea with Smith at the crease waging a lone battle, the former captain, who returned to action recently after serving a one year ban due to his involvement in the ball tampering scandal in South Africa, struck 144 off 219 balls, his majestic knock laced with 16 fours and two sixes.
Smith first shared a 88-run ninth wicket stand with Peter Siddle who scored 44 off 85 balls, and then stitched together a 75-run partnership for the last wicket with Nathan Lyon (12 not out) to take the Aussies to a fighting first innings score.
For England, Stuart Broad grabbed 5/86 while Chris Woakes returned figures of 3/58 in the absence of pace spearhead James Anderson who got injured after bowling just four overs.
At stumps, England were 10/0 after two overs with openers Rory Burns (4) and Jason Roy (6) at the crease.
Smith brought up his 24th Test century with a delectable cover drive and celebrated in an emotional fashion in front of a packed crowd. He then took on the bowlers, hitting Woakes for two consecutive fours in one over before Broad nabbed his 100th wicket in Ashes by rocking his stumps.
Broad and Woakes had maintained their good show with the ball in the afternoon session as the hosts reduced Australia to 154/8 at tea. With Australian wickets falling like a pack of cards, it was Smith who kept one end under control.
Resuming the second session at 83/3, the visitors could manage 71 runs but lost five wickets, thanks to some lethal bowling by Woakes and Broad.
After six overs in the second session in which Australia had added 16 runs, Woakes trapped Travis Head in front of the wicket.
There was no stopping Woakes, who soon dismissed new man Matthew Wade (1) in similar fashion with just 105 runs on board in the 35th over.
Broad then joined the party and dismissed skipper Tim Paine (5) cheaply after the Australian wicketkeeper’s mistimed pull landed safely in the hands of Rory Burns at deep square-leg.
As wickets kept falling for Australia, it was Smith who kept the scorerboard ticking.
After Paine’s dismissal, the English bowlers didn’t have to work hard as they easily got rid of James Pattinson (0) and Pat Cummins (5), who were both caught plumb in front of the wicket by Broad and Ben Stokes, respectively, leaving the visitors reeling at 122/8.
Smith was then joined by Siddle, who showed some resistance with the bat as the former notched up his half-century in the 47th over. Smith kept on facing the England bowlers courageously to help his team touch the 150-run mark in the 52nd over.
The duo shared an unbeaten 32-run stand for the ninth wicket till tea which saw Australia averting an early all out in Day One.
Earlier in the morning session, it was England all the way as an inspired show by the duo of Broad and Anderson in the opening hour pegged back the visitors who went into the lunch break at 83/3 in 27 overs.
Opting to bat first under overcast conditions, Australia got off to the worst possible start as they lost David Warner for just 2 in the fourth over, trapped in front by Broad. Interestingly, replays showed that the ball was missing the stumps but Warner didn’t review the decision.
The pacer then removed Cameron Bancroft for 8 as Joe Root picked up a smart catch. It was a typical Broad dismissal as he got the ball to pitch just outside off stump in the corridor of uncertainty and the ball nipped in enough to take the edge and fly to first slip.
Usman Khawaja’s dismissal was another case of the bowler being repaid for delivering it in the channel. Woakes pitched it just outside the off and Khawaja edged it for Jonny Bairstow to complete a regulation catch. While Bairstow didn’t seem too confident, skipper Root got the decision reviewed and it went in England’s favour.
Having lost three wickets inside the first 15 overs, it was all about putting the head down and batting till stumps for Smith and Travis Head and that is exactly what the duo did as they went to lunch batting out 12 overs without handing England another wicket.
While Smith looked to mix caution with a bit of aggression, Head was happy to take a couple of chances.
Brief scores: Australia 284 all out in 80.4 overs (Steven Smith 144, Travis Head 35; Stuart Broad 5/86, Chris Woakes 3/58) vs England 10/0 (Rory Burns 4 not out, Jason Roy 6 not out) at stumps on Day One.