Steve Smith faced the worst 15 months of his career after he was banned last March. But the great Australian returned to the pitch with a bang
March 2018 was one of the darkest phases in Australian Cricket history. The sandpaper gate incident rocked the team, as three players – Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft- pleaded guilty of tampering the ball with sandpaper in a test match vs South Africa. Out of the three of them the man who was affected most was the Australian captain Smith. He was stripped of his captaincy and was suspended from international cricket for one year.
This was at a time when Smith was considered one of the greatest batsmen of his generation.
In a press conference, held later back home in Australia, Smith broke down in tears in front of the media, saying that he was ashamed to do what he did, and vowed that one day he would return to the ground and bring back all the glory he lost in that ill-fated instance in Cape Town.
With the absence of Smith, the Aussie middle order was never the same, as they faltered to chase big scores and lost series after series, even getting beaten by India for the first time on their home turf. Australia was missing Steve Smith – the whole cricketing fraternity was missing him.
Meanwhile Smith continued to perform on the domestic circuit, as he aimed at returning to international cricket, and finally he got the chance after a year, when he was selected in the Aussie squad in the World Cup. And though he didn’t have a spectacular tournament, his contributions in the middle order strengthened the core of the Australian batting.
You could see, that it was not the same Australian lineup that lost crucial matches in the middle overs. There was a presence there, a solidity that was missing for more than 12 months.
But Smith’s real comeback was yet to come. 15 months since his suspension, he was selected for the most important bilateral series for Australia- the Ashes. This was the arena that he so desperately craved for – the biggest stage in Smith’s most favourite format, Test Cricket.
In the first test vs England at Edgbaston, as Australia came in to bat in the first innings, the World Champions rattled them, as they lost two wickets for just 17 runs. And that is when Steve Smith came out to bat. He was greeted with loud boos from the crowd, as all the English fans taunted him as a cheater.
But in spite of this heavy jeering, Smith stay put on the crease holding on to one end. But wickets seemed to be falling like a pack of cards of the other end. He was however, unperturbed by the action, and continued gluing the innings together, with his usual unorthodox style of play, as he moved around the popping crease confusing the bowler.
From his very stance, you could understand, that this was not the Steve Smith that became vulnerable or broke down on camera. This is a player who would fight his way, and help his team score big. And he did exactly that. After the Aussies were down and out at 122 for 8, he
formed a partnership with no. 10 Peter Siddle and added 88 runs for the ninth wicket, when Siddle fell prey to Moeen Ali.
As the last man, Nathan Lyon came on to bat, Smith was 14 runs shy of his hundred, and he got there in no time. He silenced the hostile crowd with his bat, as he raised it after scoring his 24th Test hundred. Smith finally fell at 141 runs, hitting 14 fours and two sixes.
But he was not finished here. In Australia’s second innings, when he came out at 27/2, he started from where he left it in the first innings. Smith looked sublime once again, as he switched from sheet anchor – when Travis Head was the aggressor- to being the aggressor himself when Head fell. And he once again scored a century, this time scoring 142 runs till he got out.
In the process, Steve Smith became the first batsman in 12 years, to score centuries in both innings of an Ashes Test match. He now held the record of the third most number of hundreds (10) in Ashes history – behind Don Bradman and Jack Hobbs. He also became the second fastest to score 25 hundred in Tests (119 innings), second only to the great Don Bradman, and ahead of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar.
All this after the right hander was absent from international tests for more than 15 months. This is exactly how one could picture a perfect comeback from one of life’s biggest setbacks. His exploits in the Test not only won Australia the match, but also earned Steve Smith his man of the match award in his comeback test.
This was however not the end of Smith’s redemption road. In the second Test at Lord’s, he was in full flow scoring 92 runs from 161 balls, en route to his third century in a row. However, a screamer of a bouncer from Jofra Archer hit Smith in the neck, and he was retired hurt. He was also, as a result ruled out of the third test due to injury.
Smith has to make a return once again, but considering the comeback that he just had, returning to the pitch again like a king will be a cakewalk for him.