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1st Test, Birmingham, August 01 - 05, 2019, Australia tour of England
284 & 487/7d
(T:398) 374 & 146

Australia won by 251 runs

Player Of The Match
144 & 142

Smith's magnificent return leads Australia's fightback

A wonderful century from the former captain lifted Australia from the tatters of 122 for 8 on a dramatic opening day to the Ashes

Steven Smith looks to the skies  •  Getty Images

Steven Smith looks to the skies  •  Getty Images

England 10 for 0 trail Australia 284 (Smith 144, Broad 5-86) by 274 runs
Steven Smith finished the last Ashes series having scored 687 runs in seven innings so, really, there was little surprise that he began the next contest in similar vein. Except, of course, for everything that has happened since. He marked his return to Test cricket after 16 months with one of his finest hands, lifting Australia from an almost down-and-out 122 for 8 - with considerable help from the tail - to a position from which they could consider themselves ahead of the game, psychologically if nothing else.
Having gone to 98 with a six off Moeen Ali then tucking a single, a drive through the covers against Ben Stokes from his 183rd delivery brought up his 24th Test hundred - and it was no ordinary milestone. The emotions came flooding out as he celebrated then tried to compose himself with a few deep breaths and a look to the sky, taking in the applause along with a few remaining and largely foolish-sounding boos.
He had been beaten early on by the excellent Stuart Broad - most batsmen would have been - but once he settled there was barely a moment when he did not look in control despite the many problems of his team-mates, although was thankful for the DRS on 34 when he was given lbw playing no shot at Broad. By the end he was flaying England's bowlers to all corners of (Fortress) Edgbaston including a monstrous, dismissive swing over the leg side off Broad three balls before he finally missed to end one of the great Test innings.
Away from the personal landmarks and epic backstory he had turned around Australia's day in partnership with Peter Siddle, who earned the final place in the XI ahead of Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon. The last two wickets added 162 with Siddle contributing a superbly constructed 44, in a stand that firstly frustrated England and then began to deflate them, before Smith dominated the last-wicket alliance of 74 in 13 overs with Lyon which left them looking forlorn.
While Broad and Chris Woakes had done so much to put England in command, the absence of James Anderson to a recurrence of the calf injury he sustained in the lead-up to the series hurt in the final session. Anderson only managed four overs before leaving the field for the first time and by lunch was already off for a scan. With Stokes below his best, Joe Root suddenly didn't appear to have many options to turn to. It was probably not Plan A, B, or C to use Joe Denly's legspin with Australia eight down.
Root had not been unhappy to lose the toss and the challenge to Australia's top order was clear inside the first couple of overs. While Smith's Test comeback would go on to take the headlines, David Warner's stay was a bizarre affair. He edged his first ball from Broad down the leg side but it wasn't spotted by umpire Aleem Dar (the first of a host of errors for the on-field officials) and England didn't review. Then they did review for an lbw that was going over before Broad won a decision off Dar that was missing leg stump. And that was all before the end of fourth over.
Cameron Bancroft, who was handed a nine-month ban compared to the year for Warner and Smith, was worked over by Broad before edging low to first slip and when England successfully reviewed for a thin edge by Usman Khawaja shortly after drinks it was 35 for 3.
Travis Head enjoyed a promising first season in the Test side as the post-Newlands rebuilding began and looked in good order as he made the bowlers come to him before working off the pads. However, five overs after lunch, Woakes swung one back to win a leg before and did the same to end Matthew Wade's first Test innings in two years - although the latter, again, needed recourse to the third umpire.
England, and especially Broad, could not believe their luck when Tim Paine pulled a short delivery straight to deep square leg - it wasn't quite 60 all out or Stokes' Trent Bridge catch, but the #Broadface made an appearance - and two balls later James Pattinson was given lbw to one which replays showed was sliding down leg. By then it was hard to keep up with what should and shouldn't have been out.
When Pat Cummins offered no shot to a booming Stokes inswinger Australia had lost 5 for 23 in 11 overs and were heading for something very similar to the 136 they were bundled out for in the 2015 Test at this ground. That was the point in the series, level at 1-1, where it swung England's way with considerable haste. Being skittled out early this time could have opened up some old wounds.
Smith hadn't even reached fifty by this point and when he quietly acknowledged that milestone off 119 balls it seemed like being not much more than a face-saver in the bigger picture. But Siddle, who has averaged over 30 for Essex this season, showed that he has learnt about batting against the moving Dukes ball (Paine will hope the bowling follows tomorrow) having been saved by the DRS before scoring when he was given lbw to Woakes despite a thick inside edge.
At times early on he scored more freely than Smith, who was intent on seeing through the innings, and showed some deft placement until he lunged forward at Moeen and inside-edged to short leg. For a few balls it appeared Smith would try to slog his way to a century, but Lyon has a solid technique and did not let his former captain down.
The timing of Smith's dismissal meant two overs for England's openers to face. With no nightwatchman this time, Rory Burns and Jason Roy got through but Australia were the buoyant side with plenty more plaudits for Smith as he left the field again. There is one indisputably great Test batsman on show in this series. It's very early days, but he could be the difference.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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