Confident Smith limbers up for Ashes
No matter what the bowlers do, right now the only man in the world who can get Steven Smith out is, well, Steven Smith.
A fine century at Canterbury, equal parts patient and polished, heralded Smith's arrival in England for the Investec Ashes series as the world's No. 1 ranked batsman, and reinforced the confidence that has swelled exponentially through a starburst of hundreds for Australia - five in his past six Tests, including 199 in his most recent at Sabina Park.
There has been plenty of talk in England, not least from the outspoken Graeme Swann, that Smith does not intimidate or threaten like some of the Australian batsmen of old. Old questions about his technique and temperament have also surfaced, most of them dating back to his first appearances against England in the home summer of 2010-11. A long time ago.
Asked whether his confidence was now such that he believed he could keep batting endlessly so long as he didn't get himself out, Smith replied in the affirmative. "You can only play the ball which is coming down at you," he said. "For me it is about trying to bat for long periods of time and absorb as much pressure as I can, make the bowlers bowl where I want them to bowl.
"It is nice to get a hundred, but for me the most important thing was to spend some time in the middle, to try to get used to the English conditions which are a bit different to the West Indies and back home. The first couple of net sessions I had were a little bit different to what I was expecting I guess, the ball did not come onto the bat as much as in the West Indies or as we would be expecting back home.
"It takes a bit of getting used to, but I think the time out in the middle will do me a world of good."
Swann's comments have struck a nerve with numerous observers. One Australian columnist even went as far as to suggest they were motivated by the fact that by his positive words and actions, Smith played a role in ending Swann's career in the midst of the most recent Ashes series down under. Certainly Smith did not seem perturbed they had been made.
"That does not really bother me, it is pre-Ashes and a little bit of banter," he said. "I am happy for him to say whatever he likes, and hopefully I can just continue to let my bat do the talking. You can expect that, trying to get into guys heads. It has certainly happened before and will do again.
"For me, it is just about going out there and playing the type of game I have been over the past 12-18 months and continuing to score some runs. I think I know my game a lot better now than I did. I was fresh back in the side then, I have certainly got a lot more confidence in my game now.
Everything feels good at the moment, and hopefully I can continue absorbing the pressure and keeping the bowlers coming back and getting them to bowl in the areas I want them to bowl."
Smith's promotion to No. 3 raised a few English eyebrows, but they would have done well to look at how he has handled the position in numerous testing assignments lately, from the World Cup quarter-final against Pakistan and a fiery Wahab Riaz, the first morning in Jamaica against Jerome Taylor, and even when coming in off the back of a strong opening stand in Canterbury. Patience, composure and skill have all been abundant.
"It is obviously going to be a challenge playing against the new ball, particularly in these conditions, that is probably one of the tougher times to bat," he said. "But I have enjoyed batting at No.3 so far, and hopefully I can continue having some success there.
"I am sure they are going to have plans for me but hopefully I can counteract that with some runs."
The best indicator that Smith's greatest adversary will be his own reserve of patience arrived when he stood at 99. Under instructions to push on as soon as he passed three figures, Smith tried to pre-empt things with a mighty heave, the whoosh of air as the ball beat the bat matched by the gasps of spectators.
"I swung pretty hard and guess it could have gone a long way if I had got hold of that one," he said. "I knew I was going to get retired, and was told to go very hard once I got to 100, so I might have started a little bit early."
England's best hope may be for Smith to do so again on other days.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig