Smith is the best Test batsman we have ever seen: Paine

Birmingham: Australia captain Tim Paine on Monday hailed Steve Smith as ‘probably the best Test batsman we’ve ever seen’ after his man-of-the-match performance in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston. The tourists beat England by 251 runs to win the first game of the five-match series.

England, set an imposing target of 398 to win, collapsed to 97-7 in the post-lunch session on the fifth and final day before being bowled out for 146. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon took 6-49 and fast bowler Pat Cummins 4-32 as Australia enjoyed their first win in all formats at Edgbaston since 2001 — the last time they won an Ashes series in England.

The match was a personal triumph for Australia’s Steve Smith, who in his first Test since a 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal, scored 144 and 142. Smith was the hero for Australia as they battled back from 122-8 in the first innings.

“I thought we were certainly up against it at that stage but we had the best player in the world at the crease,” said Paine. “Steve showed his class in both innings. We’re running out of things to say about Smithy. He’s probably the best Test batsman we’ve ever seen. We’re lucky to witness it. Nathan bowled superbly but our three quicks took a lot of pressure off him at the other end as well. The seamers were sensational. We thought we could improve on our first-innings performance with the ball. All those guys are world-class performers. We know every Test we play in England, the crowd will be against us. I thought the guys handled themselves really well and we’ve come out on top.”

An emotional Steve Smith said his brilliant contribution to Australia’s first-Test humbling of England was a dream come true after the pain of his ball-tampering ban. “It feels pretty special, winning the first Test in England is really special. It feels great, I’m loving being back playing cricket for Australia, doing what I love and contributing to wins,” said Smith.

“To score two hundreds in a match — the first time I’ve done that in any form of cricket in my life — is very special and I’m very proud.” Smith’s appetite for runs is such that he is being compared to Australia sporting icon Don Bradman, widely regarded as the greatest-ever Test batsman.

Bradman, in a career spanning the years either side of World War II, averaged a staggering 99.94 in 52 Tests including 29 hundreds. Of batsmen to have played at least 20 Test innings, Smith’s career average of 62.96 is second only in the all-time list to that of ‘the Don’. And by becoming just the fifth Australian to score hundreds in both innings of an Ashes Test, Smith has an achievement that eluded even Bradman.

Smith, who has now scored 25 hundreds in 65 Tests, revealed he had lost his passion for cricket as a result of his ban and an elbow injury, but he is now fully motivated again and reaping the rewards. “I didn’t dream about how I would come back. I was just letting time pass and when I got my elbow brace off after surgery something clicked and I was ready to play cricket again. I did lose that love for a little bit but I’m back doing what I love now and it’s great,” he said.

Smith changed the tone of the match, leading Australia to 284 all out in their first innings from a perilous 122-8. “When I got that first hundred I was just thinking, “don’t burst into tears.” That was as special as my first hundred back in 2013. It was a relief to get it out of the way,” he said. “I copped a bit of stick out there (over the ball-tampering incident) but I’m not paying much attention to that and fortunately we’ve got a good Aussie contingent here. They’re creating a good atmosphere for us and we’re grateful for it.”