Birmingham: Australia’s Steve Smith said he had contemplated the end of his career after marking his first Test since a year-long ball-tampering ban with a superb century on the opening day of the 2019 Ashes.
The tourists were struggling at 17-2 at Edgbaston Thursday when former Australia captain Smith walked out to bat and they later collapsed to 122-8.
But Smith, ignoring the repeated boos of the crowd, made 144 in a total of 284 after current Australia skipper Tim Paine won the toss before England closed on 10-0.
Smith’s 24th Test century was the star batsman’s first international hundred since he returned to Australia duty during a World Cup where he made 85 in last month’s Edgbaston semi-final defeat by eventual champions England.
“There were times throughout the last 15 months where I didn’t know if I was ever going to play cricket again,” Smith, renowned for his obsessive devotion to the sport, told reporters after stumps. “I lost a bit of love for it at one point, particularly when I had my elbow operation.”
“It was really bizarre that it was the day I got the brace off my elbow, I found a love for it again. I don’t know what it was, it was like a trigger that just said ‘right I’m ready to go again, I want to play and I want to go out and play for Australia and make people proud and just do what I love doing,” he said.
There were many familiar Smith traits on show in Birmingham, including the repeated fidgeting in his stance, while the crowd could scarcely have been tougher on the 30-year-old than he was when berating himself for the occasional loose shot.
Also on display was Smith’s ability to bat well alongside tailenders, with Australia’s last two wickets more than doubling their score.
Smith’s near six-hour innings was a chanceless affair until he was last man out, with his biggest scare coming when given out lbw for 34 to Stuart Broad not playing a shot only to overturn the decision on review.
Then skipper Smith and Warner, his deputy, were both given 12-month bans for their roles in the scandal in South Africa, while Cameron Bancroft — the man who brazenly applied sandpaper to the ball during a Test in Cape Town — was suspended from international duty for nine months by Cricket Australia.
All three batsmen were dismissed by Broad on Thursday, with openers Bancroft and Warner managing just 10 between them for the Ashes-holders.
The trio were booed on their way out to the middle and when they were dismissed, with even Smith’s century a cue for yet more jeering.
“I know I’ve got the support of the boys in the room and, for me, that’s all that really matters,” insisted Smith following what he labelled one of his ‘best’ centuries.
“They went berserk on the balcony when I got to my hundred and just looking up at them, it sent shivers down my spine.” When Broad eventually bowled Smith, the paceman had his 100th Test wicket against Australia after completing an innings haul of 5-86.
Australia’s task was made easier by James Anderson, England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker, only bowling four overs before going off with a calf injury.
“He actually came and said sorry to all the bowlers, not that he’s got anything to be sorry for,” Broad said of Anderson, his longstanding new-ball colleague.
“He feels like he’s let the bowling group down but he hasn’t. Niggles are a part of fast bowling.” Broad paid tribute to Smith but, having been on the receiving end of a ‘bit of stick’ by Australian crowds, refused to condemn spectators for their taunts.
“It’s part of being a professional sportsman,” he said. “Footballers get it all the time but it’s a bit unexpected sometimes in cricket. Smith seemed to deal with it OK.”