Steve Smith stared down a depleted England attack and a hostile Edgbaston crowd as his superb century single-handedly rescued Australia on the opening day of the 2019 Ashes.
The first Specsavers Test would have kicked off with England seemingly well in the box seat had Smith not hit a brilliant 144, more than half of his team’s 284 all out and a distant dream after they limped to 122 for eight.
Sixteen months after watching their careers collapse in disgrace following the sandpaper scandal, Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all returned to boos, jeers and brickbats from the notoriously raucous Birmingham crowd, but while the latter pair faltered Smith flourished.
England had one hand tied behind their back from the moment record wicket-taker James Anderson was struck down by a right calf injury that restricted him to one four-over spell, and he faces an uncertain future in the match and the series.
After Smith’s tour de force was ended, Rory Burns and Jason Roy were left to face two awkward overs at the close but held their nerve to reach 10 without loss.
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England’s batsmen will hope to follow the lead of Australia centurion Steve Smith on day two of the first Ashes Test, with fingers crossed over James Anderson’s fitness.
The rivals traded blows on an enthralling opening day to the five-Test series, with the hosts taking all 10 wickets after losing the toss but missing the chance to assume complete control thanks to a brilliantly defiant 144 from Smith.
His knock rescued the tourists from 122 for eight to 284 all out and showed that nothing – from his year-long ban for ball-tampering to the wall of boos that followed him around Edgbaston – had detracted from his class at the crease.
England might well have finished things earlier had Anderson, having bowled only four overs, not suffered a right calf injury that saw him leave the field at lunch.
“I don’t know what the next steps are, the scans could show it’s not much and he could be able to bowl in the second innings or it could show something and it’s a couple of weeks,” said Stuart Broad, who led the attack with five for 86 in Anderson’s absence.
“He is distraught. He actually came and said sorry to all the bowlers, not that he’s got anything to be sorry for.
“He feels like he’s let the bowling group down but he hasn’t. Niggles are a part of fast bowling.”
England’s openers, the under-pressure Rory Burns and the Test rookie Jason Roy, were asked to face an awkward two-over spell before stumps and added 10 to the total without undue drama.
They will resume on Friday morning, leading what Broad hopes will be a positive day for the top order.
“We don’t know how good a score that will be until we’ve batted on it,” he said.
“Day two here is normally the best time to bat so that is a positive and the way Steve Smith played showed runs can be scored on that pitch.
“I’m pretty exhausted, I’d forgotten how nerve-wracking and tense Ashes cricket is, but after losing the toss and bowling you’d take bowling a team out for less than 300 every day of the week.”
The opening day of the series belonged to Smith, though, with his first Test knock since the sandpaper scandal 16 months ago destined to go down as a classic.
Speaking emotionally afterwards, he revealed how far he had come during his year-long ban.
“There were times throughout the last 15 months where I didn’t know if I was ever going to play cricket again,” said the former Australia captain.
“I lost a bit of love for it at one point. I’ve never had those feelings ever before, I didn’t have a great love for the game, it was there for a little while and fortunately that love has come back.
“I’m really grateful to be in this position now, playing for Australia again and doing what I love.
“It’s got to be one of my best hundreds. It’s been a long time coming but I’m sort of lost for words, just really proud that I was able to help pull the team out of a bit of trouble.”
Copy provided by Press Association Sport
Australia’s defence of the Ashes urn started in remarkable fashion with Steve Smith’s 24th ton helping the visitors fight back strongly on day one of the first Test at Edgbaston.
The visitors had been reduced to 122-8 after electing to bat first with Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes doing most of the damage for England.
However, a gritty century from Smith on his Test return helped the Aussies eventually post a challenging first innings total of 284 in what was a gripping day of Test cricket in Birmingham.
After what was an electric start to the five-match Ashes series, we look at the key takeaways from the first day.
Warner’s DRS gaffe
David Warner’s Test return for Australia was a brief and eventful one with the opening batsman lasting just fourteen deliveries.
The left-hander should have been dismissed in the very first delivery bowled by Broad but was given a huge reprieve. Warner feathered an edge to a leg-side delivery bowled by the England pacer which the on-field umpire as well as the fielders failed to spot.
Broad and England did opt to take a review in the next over when their appeal for lbw was turned down but DRS showed the ball to be missing Warner’s stumps.
The relief on Warner’s face didn’t last too long with Broad finally getting the umpire to raise his finger after trapping the batsman on the pads again in the same over.
It was Warner this time who opted not to review the decision and it proved costly with replays showing that the ball would miss the stumps completely.
Smith stands tall in comeback
As Australia’s batsmen fell like a pack of cards at the other end on day one at Edgbaston, Smith stood tall with a defiant innings on his Test return.
Like Warner, the former skipper was loudly booed by a packed crowd at Edgbaston but he did not show any signs of flinching under the pressure in an epic display at the crease.
With his gritty innings, the right-hander has sent out a loud message that he is still the best when it comes to the five-day format. It wasn’t the prettiest of knocks by any means by Smith but he absorbed all the pressure in his characteristic unorthodox batting style.
Waves of ‘sandpaper’ were mockingly aimed at aim throughout day one but the Aussie star was a picture of concentration at the crease as he brought up a magnificent ninth Ashes ton.
England’s day marred by Anderson’s injury
While England will feel they have the upper hand after an eventful day one, it might have come at the big cost of James Anderson. The veteran England pacer had come into the game under an injury cloud after only recently recovering from a calf injury he picked up for Lancashire.
Anderson bowled just four overs in the first session of the day before complaining of tightness in his right calf. The 37-year-old did not take the field again after lunch with word from the England dressing room being that he was being sent for scans.
The hosts now face the dreaded prospect of losing their pace spearhead for the rest of the match and, potentially, a big chunk of the five-match series. Being one leading bowler short for the rest of the match could take its toll on Joe Root’s men and cracks were already starting to show in the final session as Smith and Australia’s tail-enders made waves.