In a series dominated by the ball, Smith stood a cut above the rest, amassing 774 runs at 110.57 – an average even Don Bradman would have been proud of. It is the fifth highest run tally in Ashes history behind Bradman (1930, 1936-37), Wally Hammond (1928-29) and Mark Taylor (1989), who all played more than Smith’s four games.
To put Smith’s effort into perspective, the next highest Ashes total for four Tests is Bill Ponsford’s 569 in 1934.
Smith’s influence in the series could be explained thus: England’s two victories came in the match he missed and the one where he did not make a century, while the draw came in the game he did not finish. The two games Australia won, he was the player of the match. Not surprisingly, Smith was named the player of the series.
Smith struggles to sleep during Tests as he visualises how he will bat the next day so it’s little wonder he was so tired at the Oval.
While most struggle to perform even the most menial of tasks while sick, Smith batted for nearly four-and-a-half hours to make 80 against Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad.
Booed throughout the World Cup and the Ashes by English fans, Smith belatedly won over the locals with his epic performances.
“It was a nice reception when I walked off, would have been nice to have a few more runs under my belt,” Smith said, following his 23 in the second innings.
“I have given it my all while I have been here for the last four-and-a-half months but I didn’t have much more to give today.
“I was pretty cooked mentally and physically and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks off and heading back for the Australian summer.”
It took until the end of the series but England finally dismissed Smith for under 50, caught at the unusual position of leg gully. Ironically, that had been their plan A at Edgbaston – the first of many that did not work.
Teams around the world have tried that tactic to Smith with little success so he will relish them trying again in light of it belatedly working for Joe Root, he said.
According to Tim Paine, that was the silver lining in Smith’s dismissal in Australia’s unsuccessful run chase.
“He sat there and said ‘oh well, if I get out there they will start bowling at my hip, they will keep bowling there’,” Paine said.
Smith said he was prepared to accept getting out in that fashion as bad luck due to what he believed was the rare likelihood of it happening.
“It just takes a catcher out from somewhere else so go for your life,” Smith said.
Now that he did not have to plot against Smith for another two years, Root revealed how difficult it had been to get him out.
“He’s been a pain, really. He’s played extremely well. He’s the No.1 batter in the world for a reason,” Root said.
“In difficult conditions he’s stood up and done something very special and been the difference really.
“It was nice to see a plan come together finally, even though it was what we started with at Edgbaston. Finally one went to hand.”
STEVE SMITH BY THE NUMBERS:
BEST TEST SERIES IN HIS CAREER:
- 774 runs at 110.57 from seven innings – 2019 Ashes
- 769 runs at 128.16 from eight innings – 2014-15 v India
- 687 runs at 137.40 from seven innings – 2017-18 Ashes
WHAT RECORDS DID HE BREAK?
- Registered 10 consecutive 50-plus scores against England. The previous record for such a streak against one opposition belonged to Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul- Haq, who did it nine times against England.
- Smith scored 1251 runs during that stretch of 10 consecutive innings. The previous record for such a streak against one opposition belonged to Don Bradman (1236 runs v England, 1937-1946).
- Don Bradman, Mark Taylor and Neil Harvey are the only Australians to have enjoyed a more prolific series than Smith.
- Smith registered his fourth, fifth and sixth Test tons in England. No Englishman has posted more Ashes tons in England than him.
- Smith stroked more boundaries this series (97) than David Warner scored runs (95).
- Since the start of the Oval Test in the 2015 Ashes, Smith has plundered 1604 runs at 123.38 from 15 Ashes innings.
- Since the start of the Oval Test in the 2013 Ashes, Smith has plundered 6353 runs at 73.02 (including all 26 tons of his career).
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald