Steve Smith Resurrects From the Ashes To Become the World's Best Test Batsman

Studded with star performances, the series was the perfect way to flag the World Test Championship off.

After England won the final Ashes test on Sunday, the defending champions Australia could not win the series but retained the urn. The fact that the sole player to have a three-digit score in the fifth test was from their team was in vain for Australia. Studded with fours, Mathew Wade’s century fell short as England bowled Australia out for 263 to win at The Oval by 135 runs. Both sides won two test matches each, resulting in the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.

The final test’s scorecard makes it evident that both sides’ batting lineup stumbled. It was the bowlers who made the most difference. Veteran Stuart Broad and the player of the match, Jofra Archer, kept the Aussies guessing with their edgy bowling.

It may have been a poor series for England’s skipper Joe Root, but vice-captain Ben Stokes stepped up each time he was called upon. Stokes, who emerged as a national hero after his World Cup exploits propelled England to their first title, led England’s batting squad in the Ashes. His match-winning fourth innings century in the third test elevated his hero status further.

Coincidentally, both matches that England won ended on the fourth day. The home side also responded well to losses, winning the next match.

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Though the series ended in a draw, it was sprinkled with commendable performances. Steve Smith was regarded as the best test match player by former English cricketer Michael Vaughan. With two Australian bowlers – Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – in the top ten ICC (International Cricket Council) ranking for bowlers, the country’s pace battery looks promising again. Cummins and Hazlewood took 49 wickets throughout the series. Aussie skipper Tim Paine said after the match that over the next few years, Australia would be a hard team to beat.

Bradmanesque Smith

Apart from his excellent batting, if there was another thing to be expected whenever Steve Smith took to the field, it was the boos he received from spectators.

Smith, along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, was banned from international cricket on March 28, 2018 for twelve months for a ball-tampering incident. While Warner has still not won many hearts, things have taken a 360-degree turn for Smith. After scoring three centuries, a double hundred and three fifties in the four tests he played, Smith walked off to a standing ovation at The Oval on Sunday.

English journalist Piers Morgan tweeted, “The bat, it transpires, is mightier than the sandpaper”. This was a reference to sandpaper being used to tamper the ball.

Smith scored a total of 774 runs in just seven innings with a stunning average of 110.57. Had he not missed the second match after being hit by a Jofra Archer bouncer, he might have got closer to Sir Don Bradman’s all-time record of 974 runs in a test series, set in 1930.

Smith joined stalwarts such as Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, Everton Weekes and Gary Sobers as batsmen who have scored more than 700 runs in a test series more than once. Despite being the sixth batsman to join the elite club, he managed to score the highest tally by any batsman in a single series since 1994. He also replaced Virat Kohli at the top of the ICC batting list in the game’s oldest format.

Who will prevail in the world test championship?

With the Aussies retaining the Ashes urn, albeit, through a drawn series, all eyes will now turn towards the World Test Championship (WTC), a league competition that will span two years. The first edition (2019-21) was launched by the ICC on August 1 and will conclude at a final at the Lord’s in June 2021. It will be held once every two years.

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Since then, three test series have taken place with only India winning against West Indies on September 3. The remaining two series – New Zealand vs Sri Lanka and the Ashes – ended in a draw.

Standings for World Test Championship 2019-21. Credit: ICC official website

Though test cricket is the fundamental format of the game, it lags in terms of popularity and viewership when compared to the shorter versions such as one days and T20s.

The WTC was launched to bring more attention to bilateral test cricket.

As per the rules, each team will play six series, with a total of 120 points available from each series. These points will be evenly allocated across the number of matches in each series. For example, a two-match series will mean 60 points for a win in each Test, while in a three-match series, 40 points will be awarded to the winner of each test match. In the event of a tie, each team will receive 50% of the points, whilst a draw will see a team receive a third of the winning points.

After a string of stellar performances and packed stadiums greeting one of the historic test series of all-time, the format seems to be alive and kicking.

Nidhima Taneja is an editorial intern with The Wire.