Steven Smith revealed he had found the ideal rhythm for his Test batting two days out from the start of the Ashes, leaving Steve Waugh declaring he had "never seen anything like" the batting conjured by Australia's former captain as he capped a remarkable comeback Test at Edgbaston with his second century of the match. In the process, he became only the fifth Australian and the first since Matthew Hayden in 2002 to achieve the feat in an Ashes Test.
Following 144 to begin the match, Smith reached a second chanceless hundred for the Test by cracking Stuart Broad through cover in the second over after lunch, pausing with a wide grin to acknowledge a crowd chorus now far more applause than boos. On his watch, Australia secured an imposing 397-run lead over England on day four of the first Test at Edgbaston, declaring half-an-hour before the close.
An aggregate of 286 runs for the match, making him only the fourth batsman of all time to go past 140 in each innings of a Test, was the product of countless hours hitting balls thrown by the batting coach Graeme Hick in the lead-up to the series.
"I hadn't faced a red ball in a long time," Smith said. "So it was just about finding the rhythm of looking at that coming down at me and getting out of white-ball mode and into red-ball mode. I don't change a great deal there with the way I play, but there's certain little things that I do change with the way I hold my bat and the way I try to move across the crease and things like that.
"So it was about just finding that rhythm and it took me a while, it took Graeme Hick a lot of throws to get there, but I found the rhythm two days I reckon before the game and topped it up again the day before and was confident coming into the game that I was in a good place. They're brilliant, they work extremely hard, all the back room staff do, and they'll throw to you for as long as you like if you need to do what I needed to do. We're really fortunate that they do work incredibly hard. I've really enjoyed the last, however long I have been over here in the UK. Playing the World Cup, and playing in this first Ashes Test.
"I wasn't hitting the ball as well as I would have liked at the start of the week, and made sure I put in the hours to find my rhythm and my groove, and going in to day one I felt in a really good place and was ready to go out and play. I'm just pleased to have done what I have achieved over the last four days and been able to put the team in a really good position going in to the last day. I'm over the moon, it's what dreams are made of, sort of thing."
Speaking to Channel 9 during the lunch break, at which point Smith was 98 not out, Waugh - who himself made back-to-back hundreds to win the Old Trafford Test in 1997 - said: "I've never seen anything like him. His preparation is amazing, he's thorough, he hits more balls than I've ever seen anyone and when he goes out to bat it's almost like he's in a trance-like state.
"He knows exactly what he's trying to do, exactly what the opposition are trying to do, how they are trying to get him out. He seems to have answer for everything. He's an incredible player, don't think I've seen anything quite like him and his appetite for runs is second to none. His technique is amazing, it's unique, but he knows what he's doing and how to score runs. He analyses every ball and it's like a computer, he spits out the answer."
Among many achievements in Smith's stunning record as a batsman, he had never previously made a hundred in each innings, with a best second innings tally of 71 in matches where he had made a first-innings 100. But to choose his first match since returning from his Newlands scandal ban, and an Ashes match at that to do so, put him in extremely rare company indeed - one of the rare batting clubs of which Sir Donald Bradman isn't a member.
Hayden's 197 and 103 at the Gabba in 2002 were also in the first match of a series, only six years after Waugh's 108 and 116 at Old Trafford in the third Test of the 1997 encounter. For the previous instance, the clock has to be turned back to January 1947, when Arthur Morris made 122 and 124 not out at Adelaide Oval. The first man to do it, as far back as 1909, was Warren Bardsley, who notched 136 and 130 at The Oval.
Three England batsman have also achieved the feat in Ashes Tests - and they are also among the elite of Ashes competition: Herbert Sutcliffe, Wally Hammond and Denis Compton. For Australia, Hayden and Waugh were both on the winning side of their matches, while Morris and Bardsley made their runs in drawn Tests. Smith, having soared to a memorable century on the opening day of the series, an emotional release after his many trials and tribulations over the past year and a half, has now re-marked his guard in the most authoritative way possible.
"I've never doubted my ability. But, it's kind of a dream comeback in a way," Smith said. "To be able to score two hundreds in a match, in the first Ashes match, it's something I have never done in any form of cricket before in my life. It's incredibly special, and special to put us in the position we are in now going in to day five.
"When you're out in the middle, it's easy to block stuff out, I'm there and I'm playing the game and doing what I love, so I've got myself in a nice headspace today where I really wasn't thinking too much other than where the field was and where they were trying to bowl to me, and just hitting the ball or leaving the ball. Just playing the game. I spent a lot of time in the middle obviously. It helped in the second innings that I was able to get off to a pretty quick start yesterday.
"I think I was almost at a run-a-ball or thereabouts overnight so I felt I'd got myself into a nice position to just go out there and play today. Whether I broke their backs or no, I don't know. That's a question for them. Fortunately I was able to keep them out there and keep them coming back as much as I could and just scoring the runs that was needed, along with Matty and Travis Head, who I thought played well as well. Get us in a position where we can hopefully go on and win this first Test Ashes Test match."
As for the fact he had been seen shuffling Australia's fielders during the first innings, in collaboration with the captain Tim Paine, Smith said leadership ambitions were a long way from his mind at the present moment.
"Certainly not on my radar at the moment, it's just about going out there, doing my job as a batsman, scoring runs," he said. "Of course I'm experienced now and able to help Tim in any way I can. He knows I'm there to help him and give him suggestions and things like that as much as I can. If I see something I'll always go to him and try and help for the betterment of the team."