Imaging you are playing a sport, any sport! You’ve played it for years, for as long as your mind could begin storing memories. You’ve played at various levels, excelled, and then you make it to the highest level in time. Now imagine, you are one of the best in the sport, if not the best. The sport becomes your life and you enjoy every moment of it, perched at the top. Finally, picture this – all of it comes to an abrupt halt. Albeit temporarily, you can’t get back to what you loved doing and it feels like you have to serve time.
Once you are done serving time, imagine how you would feel when you are about to return to the highest level. Well, it’s very difficult to imagine how it would feel, unless you’ve been through something like that. Steve Smith did go through all of this and we may never really know what it felt like to him to make his comeback to Test cricket, that too, in the Ashes. But, what we do know is how his return to competitive cricket unfolded.
When Steve Smith returned to Rajasthan Royals, after 3 years, his international ban was still on. The last day of the ban was just around the corner. When he arrived in India, there were some lingering questions about his ban and how he spent time over the past few months. Smith did play in the T20 leagues in Canada and Bangladesh before arriving in India. It was the Vivo IPL that had higher stakes and stiffer competition. Smith didn’t pay heed to such questions and topics. Instead, he let his batting and his leadership do the talking. “I received a warm welcome back into the Rajasthan Royals and Australian setups. I enjoyed my time in the IPL and really built momentum from that point onwards. I’m loving where I am at the moment.”
For Rajasthan Royals, Smith played some vital knocks. He scored three half-centuries and led the team well when the captaincy was handed over to him. Under his leadership, the team stayed in with a chance to make it to the Playoffs until the final game of the league stage.
He then returned in yellow for Australia as their preparation for the ICC 2019 World Cup got underway. Smith, who was Australia’s leading run-scorer in the 2015 World Cup, was among the runs straightaway. During Australia’s game against India, we got to see one of the most sporting gestures from Virat Kohli. When Smith was at the boundary, he was being booed by a few Indian fans. Kohli heard the boos and gestured towards the crowd to applaud him instead. After all, Kohli is also a Royal.
Australia lost to England in the semi-final and Smith was one of the few players who performed well on that day for the Aussies. Then came the big one! It had been 16 months since Smith played a Test match. He was the absolute boss in the format, averaging in the 60s. At one point, his average was the highest after Bradman’s among all active cricketers.
Smith found himself in a tough situation straightaway. Australia lost wickets in quick succession around him, as Stuart Broad bowled with a lot of zeal. They were reeling at 122/8, but Smith’s resilience took centre-stage. He mixed attack and defence perfectly to guide Australia to 284.
Smith wasn’t done yet. He returned in the second innings with a different approach. Australia were in a spot of bother, but were in a better position than they were in their first innings. Smith rallied with the middle-order as Australia piled on a massive lead. He seemed aggressive and more confident. He became just the 4th batsman to score 140+ runs in both innings of a Test match.
The second innings hundred was Smith’s 10th in the Ashes. He stands joint second highest with Steve Waugh, with only Bradman in front for Australia with 19 Ashes tons. His comeback was one batsmen probably watch dreams of. “I have never doubted my ability, but it was kind of a dream comeback in a way. To be able to score two hundreds in the first Ashes Test, is something I’ve never done in any form of cricket, before in my life. It’s incredibly special to be able to put us (Australia) in the position we are in now. I’m over the moon, and it feels like ‘dreams are made of’ kind of thing.”
Steve Smith is back and the world has seen it. Australia weren’t considered favourites for the first Test, but that has changed and the main man behind the change is our Royal skipper himself. Once he starts on a high note, he goes on to punish the opposition throughout the series. England have seen that side of Smith during the last Ashes, Down Under. The Royal will be an absolute treat to watch during the remaining four Tests. Sit back, relax and enjoy the batting masterclass!