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Steve Smith is known to celebrate every century he scores by rewarding himself with a block of chocolate – nothing fancy, just your classic old Cadbury Dairy Milk.
You expect tonight’s glass-and-a-half of joy will taste sweeter than most as Smith ended a 490-day, eight-match Test century drought.
The celebration said just how much it meant to him, and he had been made to wait for it too as he spent 20 minutes stuck on 99.
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Paine undone by a Bumrah SEED
The helmet came off quickly as he turned towards the dressing room and he swung his bat a full rotation, puffed his chest, and then swung his bat again before he saluted the circumference of the ground, kissed his helmet and raised his arms again. There was a nod too. There was a lot of elation to it. And it felt like there was a point to it as well.
Smith is on the record about the fact he reads plenty about himself from the press, and plenty of what has been written of late has been about his troubles against India this summer.
“I’m reading a lot of things people say that I’m out form but think I think there’s a difference between out of form and out of runs,” Smith told Fox Cricket at the drinks break. “Just nice to score a few and maybe keep a few people quiet.”
Sensational Smith run out well by Jadeja
He doubled down after play.
“It was only about three or four weeks ago I think I scored two hundreds at the SCG,” he told reporters. “It kind of just makes me laugh sometimes when people say that kind of thing. I missed out in the first two Test matches obviously and came back today and scored some runs to help put us in a decent position.”
Having scratched his way to just 10 runs across his first three innings of the summer, Smith looked serene on his way to a 201-ball ton at the SCG as held Australia’s batting order together against an Indian attack that while not quite as stellar as it has been was still highly impressive.
The Indians didn’t look like getting him out until Ravindra Jadeja ran him out with the a direct hit for 131, charging in at square leg before throwing down the stumps — he only had the one to aim at.
Smith went to stumps on day one at the SCG unbeaten on 31, and rarely looked troubled on day two as he nudged, drove and clipped his way to triple figures for the 27th time and ended Australia’s six-Test run without a ton against India.
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That was a period in which Australia’s highest individual score against India had been Marcus Harris’ 79, though Marnus Labuschagne did manage 91 this match. Coincidentally, it had been Smith who had last notched a ton against the Indians in 2017 at Dharamsala.
He now has eight Test tons against the Indians, a number bettered by no one and only matched by Ricky Ponting, Viv Richards and Garfield Sobers. That is serious company.
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Smith’s century innings in all its glory
While the ton was a long way from a shot-a-ball, it was clear from the get-go that Smith was done having terms dictated to him, with his innings featuring 13 boundaries by the time he reached 100 – more than he had managed across his previous seven innings.
He set the tone of his innings early with a driven four through mid-off against Jasprit Bumrah, before helping himself to two more boundaries off of Navdeep Saini, nudging him just fine of the leg gully India has been hunting him with all campaign and then driving him imperiously down the ground.
“I feel in a way sometimes less likely to get out but harder to score, if that makes sense,” Smith said of the legside dominant fields used by New Zealand and India in the past two summers to stymie his run-scoring
“This game I was probably a little more aggressive early, tried to put it back onto the bowler a little bit more. I got off to a nice start, I think I was almost a run-a-ball 20.
“Then you’ve just got to play the game. Absorb pressure when you need to, put pressure on when you need to. I thought I did that pretty well in this innings.”
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But it was how he played Ashwin that was always going to be central to the narrative. The offspinner has not only been Smith’s chief nemesis but a central man in India’s strangulation of Australia’s batsman.
Speaking during the second Test, Smith conceded he had allowed the offie to dictate terms in a way he had never allowed a spinner to before. He looked notably more aggressive in the spinners’ net on Tuesday and carried that into Thursday.
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He took the attack to Ashwin, clipping him sumptuously through mid-wicket for one boundary before striding out to drive him back over his head for another.
It was fitting that he passed fifty for the first time for the series on Friday with a wristy straight drive for four off the spinner.
“I decided to be a bit more positive,” he said. “Early on I hit him over his head, sort of just put a bit of pressure on him to bowl where I wanted him to bowl. It was a concerted effort to do that. And I was happy with the way I played him.”
Smith went up the gears after bringing up his ton and released the shackles in the company of No.11 Josh Hazlewood.
There was a slog sweep off Jadeja for one four. A ramp over the cordon off Bumrah for another. And lastly there was the kind of shot only he can play — a tennis forehand smash to midwicket.
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