Steve Smith’s heroics in the first 2019 Ashes Test at Birmingham have seen the Australia batsman close down the gap on India star Virat Kohli in the latest ICC Test rankings for batsmen.
Smith registered tons under pressure in each innings of the Edgbaston Test to mark a triumphant return to red-ball cricket with his displays helping Australia crush England by 251 runs in the end.
The right-hander’s scores of 144 and 142 in what was his first Test match in over a year has seen him climb back into the top-three of the rankings. The 46 rating points gained by Smith from his Edgbaston display has seen him leapfrog India’s Cheteshwar Pujara to the No3 spot and he is now only 19 points behind top-ranked Kohli.
Smith was the No1 Test batsman in the world before he was handed a one-year suspension from international cricket following the infamous ball-tampering episode in Newlands last year.
Despite his prolonged absence from the international game, the Aussie has continued to maintain a lofty position in the Test rankings and he can further reduce the gap on Kohli and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson in the coming weeks.
India’s next Test match is slated to begin on August 22 when they lock horns with West Indies in a two-match series. Smith will be in action for Australia in the second Ashes Test against England at Lord’s which gets underway on August 14 and could potentially even reclaim the No1 ranking.
Meanwhile, Australia pacer Pat Cummins has consolidated his position at the top of the bowlers’ rankings following his seven-wicket haul across the two innings at Edgbaston. There were also big gains for Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon whose nine wickets in the win have helped him rise to 13th spot in the rankings.
ICC Test Rankings for Batsmen
ICC Test Rankings for Bowlers
Australia coach Justin Langer believes that Steve Smith’s epic display in the first 2019 Ashes Test at Edgbaston is on a different level to anything he has seen in the past from India star Virat Kohli.
Smith marked a glorious return to Test cricket after a one-year suspension with twin tons at Birmingham to help Australia thrash hosts England by 251 runs. The right-hander rescued his side from perilous positions in both innings of the Test to set up the big win and has been drawing in the accolades from all quarters ever since.
Langer had hailed Kohli as the best batsman in the world following his displays Down Under towards the end of last year which helped India record their first ever Test series win on Australian soil.
“I said during the summer that Virat Kohli is the best player I have ever seen but that (Smith’s knocks) is just another level,” the Australia head coach stated.
“You have in different teams, different eras, great players but for someone like Smudge (Smith), who is averaging over 60 and the way he played in this innings with all the pressure and everything that is on him, it was not only great skill but enormous character, enormous courage, very brave, unbelievable concentration, unbelievable physical stamina, unbelievable mental stamina, all traits of great players.”
The former Australia opening batsman has termed Smith as the best ‘problem solver’ in the game after his knocks of 144 and 142 at Edgbaston.
“You throw to him in the nets and you literally feel like you can’t get him out and there’s no batsman like that and you just end up throwing a million balls and you are just lost for answer,” said Langer.
“I guess you would have to ask England how they feel about that and they had some interesting tactics for him.
“They had the really short point which I had never seen before, they obviously had a tactic they prepared and Trevor Bayliss has seen a lot of Steve Smith since he was a kid. They would have studied him closely but he just has a knack, well, he is the best problem-solver in the game.”
Tim Paine insists Australia will remain grounded despite ending England’s stranglehold at Edgbaston after the tourists drew first blood in the 2019 Ashes with a 251-run win.
Steve Smith became only the fifth Australian to record a century in both innings of an Ashes Test as Australia set England a fanciful 398 for victory before Nathan Lyon rose to the occasion on the final day.
Australia’s premier off-spinner exploited helpful conditions to take six for 49 while paceman Pat Cummins claimed the remaining wickets as England were skittled for 146 on day five.
England had won their last 11 matches in all formats at the Birmingham venue while Australia claimed their first triumph at Warwickshire’s ground since 2001 – the last time they won the urn on English soil.
Asked if this was a statement victory, Australia captain Paine responded: “You’ve got to keep a lid on it. There’s still four Tests to go and we aren’t here to win the first Test at Edgbaston – we’re here to win the Ashes.
“We’ve been really clear on that for some time. We’re obviously happy to win the first Test. It’s a huge step in the right direction, but we’re certainly not satisfied with that.
“Tonight will be quite a different feel to most Test wins we’ve had.
“We’re over here to do something that a lot of teams from Australia have struggled to do. And we realise that if we can do it it will be spoken about for a hell of a long time, and that’s what is driving us.
“To come to England in these conditions is difficult for us as it is for England to go to Australia. There’s a big five weeks ahead of us.”
Smith’s superb innings of 144 and 142 marked a stunning return to the Test format for the former Australia captain after an absence of more than a year following a suspension for his role in the ball-tampering scandal.
Paine added: “He’s the best player in the world in Test cricket at the moment. He’s probably the best ever statistically, and while he’s at the crease I think our team’s got real confidence.
“Whilst Steve’s scoring runs and Nathan’s taking wickets, we’re a pretty dangerous cricket team and as I think you saw, the rest of us will grow with confidence the better those guys are going.”
Paine was mindful of James Anderson’s absence for the majority of the Test. England’s record wicket-taker was restricted to only four overs before going down with a calf complaint on the first morning.
He would not bowl again in the Specsavers series opener, which Paine admitted played into Australia’s hands.
Paine added: “It’s a big win for us, but they lost their premier bowler so we’ve got to be realistic about it and that’s why it’s one Test win and there’s four more huge games for us to go.”
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