One year on since his triumphant return to Test cricket, Australia batsmen Steve Smith spoke about his mindset and the mechanism he used to ignore the hostility when he took the field against England in the first 2019 Ashes Test.
Returning after a ban for his role in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, Smith was greeted by a hostile crowd in England. But he drowned it all out by scoring centuries in both innings of the Edgbaston Test, the first of the series, leading Australia to a gritty win.
Despite missing out on a Test due to a concussion caused by a Jofra Archer delivery, Smith was named the player of the series after scoring 774 runs at an average of 110.57 from four Tests played. Australia retained the Ashes after winning the fourth Test but England levelled the series 2–2 in the final test, resulting in the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.
When Smith came in to bat after the quick wickets of openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – also implicated in Sandpapergate – he was welcomed by loud boos from the crowd. But Smith said he barely heard it because he was focused on the task at hand.
“It was my first Test in 18 months and I was excited to be back playing. I was in a good place, excited to get batting. Looking back and hearing a few things, there was hostility. I found a mechanism to block it all out and get on with the job at hand. I didn’t listen to it at all was about business as usual and go out and have fun,” Smith told The Unplayable Podcast’s Ashes Revisited.
In the first innings at Edgbaston, Smith shared an 88-run partnership with bowler Peter Siddle to rescues Australia from 112/7. He scored 144 in the first innings and followed it up 142 in the second as Australia won by 251 runs.
Was it about redemption after the ban and how much did the strong performance help?
“I have moved on, life moves on people make mistakes and it’s what you learn from it and the person you become after… Just getting back playing and enjoying it again was a big part of it. In the first Test to have played the way I did was amazing and a good step in the right direction,” he added.
Talking about the blow he copped from Archer, Smith said he was lucky to come through it with only a concussion. The second Test was the first time that a concussion substitute was used in international cricket, with Marnus Labuschagne replacing Smith.
“I remember it pretty vividly. It was a pretty difficult period of time batting, it was starting to get a bit dark from memory and I was actually struggling to pick the ball up a bit from that end. “It’s probably one of the most unique places in the world to bat, there’s a bit going on behind the (bowler’s) arm with all the members sitting there and the windows of the pavilion.
“There’s a few distractions there, so it was difficult but it was a good spell of bowling on that wicket, at that stage. I’ve looked back at the knock a few times, and I just count myself lucky at times to have been able to get up from it and to only have a concussion,” he said.
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