After one of the great Ashes performances in the first Test, all eyes are on the former captain again to see if he can continue his scoring feats. He already has his name on the honours board at the Home of Cricket as a result of his double century in 2015, a score only Don Bradman himself has bettered at the ground among Australians. But right now there are bigger things on the mind of the 30-year-old then bothering the Lord’s engraver again.
And while Smith is plotting England’s downfall once more, the hosts resume the series still searching for avenues to somehow limit his influence.
“You’re always looking at different ways how you can try and get someone out,” England captain Joe Root said. “I think maybe one thing that could have done slightly better [at Edgbaston], me personally as captain, was stick to a plan for a little bit longer, give it a chance to work a little bit more.
“But he did play well. I think it was 18 times early on in that first innings he played and missed. It could have been very different. In some ways that’s a sign that plans are working. We’ve just got to be a little bit more patient with it. And he’s got to start again this week … new challenge, new wicket, different atmosphere. I think it’s very important that whatever way we decide to go we’re confident it’s going to work and back our ability to execute it well.”
Only a Test back from his suspension over the ball-tampering affair, Smith has transfixed with everyone he does, from his shuffle across the crease to the exaggerated leaves, let alone the effortless drives or flicks behind square.
Smith doesn’t court the comparisons with Bradman – his first instinct is to recoil from them in deference to the world’s greatest ever batsman. But it was fitting in a way that less than 48 hours before the start of the second Test he was photographed standing in front of a portrait of Bradman on a staircase in the Lord’s Pavilion.
England don’t have Bodyline as an option against him – although they do have Jofra Archer. How the debutant Test quick takes him on will be fascinating to witness but one thing Root stresses is the need for his team to take wonder out of the equation.
“It’s something you’ve got to look past,” Root said when asked about Smith’s pre-movement in particular. “A lot of what he does is try to put you off in a way, trying to make it look extremely different so you have to think way outside the box.
“You look at his dismissals over a period of time it’s not far away from everyone else’s, the movements before and after it might look slightly different. It’s just being really clear on how we want to go about it. When we got to a plan we’ve got to be really ruthless with it, stick to it, make sure if we’re not getting him out we’re containing him and building pressure on him at the other end.”
England also have a left-arm orthodox bowler, Jack Leach, in their squad, who according to the numbers could be something like Kyrptonite to the modern-day batting superhero. Not if you ask Australia coach Justin Langer, however.
“No, I don’t buy into it,” Langer said of Smith’s supposed vulnerability against such bowlers. “He’s got this incredible ability to solve problems, I’m sure he’ll be thinking a lot about he’s going to play all the new bowlers who are coming in.
“And I hope all our batters are doing the same thing, but he’s a good player and hopefully he’ll have a way of working it out.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.