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The Steve Smith effect forced the mental disintegration of England

Here is how the Smith effect rippled across the landscape. It made the Stokes/Headingley effect redundant at a stroke, or rather a lot of them. Ben Stokes turned the series on its head there in an hour. It took Smith two days to right it, but surely no more will be heard. Stokes’ innings will remain one for the ages, but its effect was a two-week wonder.

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By its vastness, Smith’s innings led to collateral injuries for at least three England players as they wearied, including Stokes, who forewent to bowl in the second half of the innings. Condensed as this series is, these wounds may have implications for next week’s fifth Test, too.

It achieved the mental disintegration of England, to borrow a term from the Steve Waugh era, and all by saying no more than “good ball” every now and then to an English bowler. Any harsher epithets this perfectionist directed at himself. This is how the Smith effect works: it focuses inwards, but projects everywhere.

It de-mythologised Jofra Archer’s supposed hold over him since Lord’s. The English paceman only rarely stirred himself to full pace, bowled infrequently at Smith’s pads or stumps and finished the innings being slapped around by Mitch Starc and Nathan Lyon. He did not take a wicket. He still has not dismissed Smith in the series.

It inspired Paine to play the sort of innings his batsmanship always promises. It also papered over myriad issues in Australia’s upper order, especially the left-handers. With few options at hand, Australia can reasonably hope now that the papier-mache will hold until the Australian summer. It licensed a free-for-all for tail-enders Starc and Lyon, slathering salt into wounds.

Steve Smith dominated day two of the Old Trafford Test with a masterful double ton.

Steve Smith dominated day two of the Old Trafford Test with a masterful double ton.Credit:Getty Images

It brought the crowd to heel. The patrons in the temporary western stand have been likened to a football crowd, but were reduced hour by hour to sighs and silence. Spectators who bring brollies and beanies to the cricket come with a certain fatalism, but this was not the sort of worst they were expecting. Eventually, they were moved to a show of grudging respect, whereupon half went home.

It made at least one English wicket before nightfall ghoulishly inevitable. Joe Denly was the fall guy. It means Australia would have to play particularly poorly over the last seven days of this series not to go home with the Ashes.

As Smith develops, he grows ever odder and ever more prolific. A secondary Smith effect is that whether trying to eulogise him, categorise him or get him out, he leaves all tongue-tied. That includes himself. He could no more explain himself than paint the Mona Lisa. He allows only that he is “strange”, and laughs.

He’s Greg Matthews meeting Clive Lloyd, meeting Charlie Chaplin. He confounds the game’s very nomenclature when identifying shots. Take his hook, for instance, which is not so the red-blooded shot from the days of old, but a put, gently depositing the ball into a slot. You can’t call it a hook, but you can’t call it anything else. The Smith effect works in mysterious ways.

His cartoonish tics offend classicists, his instant replays, phantom rehearsals and self-commentary distract all. But at the moment bat meets ball, the balance is generally right and the timing is sweet. His concentration is other-worldly.

On his own recognition, this was an innings played in patches and parts, not all of them fluent. It is a rare performer who can choose between double-centuries. He was streaky early, when tension was high and the English bowlers on their game. Archer might have caught-and-bowled him with a full-toss.

He lost his shape again immediately after lunch, when he lashed intemperately at Leach once and was caught from him soon after, as it happened from a disastrous no-ball. Contrary to reports here and elsewhere, he is only human. The contest itself was running wild then as England dropped Paine twice. The day was still there for the winning then.

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Once Smith re-gathered himself, and England began to wilt, the rest of the day took on an inevitable cast. The idea of Test match batting is to make the bowling come to you, but England’s bowlers must have been at the point of going to Smith and pleading with him for mercy. Nobly, two shook his hand when at last he was done.

None the less, they have stumbled on a weakness. For their future reference, Smith has twice fallen playing reverse sweeps at England captain Joe Root. Both times, he was 200 and plenty. Perhaps this is the Root effect. Smith being Smith, he swore it would not happen again.

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